February 7, 2003
Should company officials at Fort Kent children's clothing manufacturer Kent Inc. be unable to find a new investor and the plant is forced to close, the University of Maine at Fort Kent is prepared to provide any displaced workers a tuition waver on one three-credit university course.
That word from UMFK President Richard Cost, who is extending the university's assistance to help retrain workers at Kent.
"The university community is supportive of any and all efforts to save Kent and the jobs of its employees and we are still hopeful. However, we are prepared to help those people who may be looking for new opportunities. Our mission as a public university is to serve the educational needs of the people of this region. This is one way we can meet that commitment," said Cost.
At current in-state tuition rates, a three-credit UMFK course would cost $342 plus additional student fees. The campus hopes that Kent employees availing themselves of the opportunity to enroll in a course of their choice will both learn about the college experience, as well as possibly find a university program that interests them and could lead to a new career.
"It is crucial that UMFK, and other higher education institutions, be prepared to work with people affected by a downturn in the economy. When jobs become scarce people seek the skills they will need to take advantage of better opportunities that lie ahead," said Cost.
The tuition waiver on a three-credit course is the first step university officials have outlined to assist Kent workers. UMFK is also opening its doors to any displaced employees who are seeking information on what options exist for them in higher education.
"We welcome any Kent employees who have any questions about attending college. We can provide information about various programs and which ones might be best suited for each individual; discuss requirements, possible courses of interest, and what financial aid opportunities might exist," said Melik Khoury, UMFK director of admissions. "The admissions office is committed to sitting down with any of the workers who just want to know what's available."
According to Khoury, his office is currently prepared to meet individually with any employee contacting the admissions office. He is awaiting further details on the potential closure announcement before planning an informational session on campus for Kent workers.
"Should closure occur we will invite all employees of the company to a meeting on campus to hear about what we can offer," said Khoury.
This will not mark the first time UMFK extends an offer of assistance to displaced workers at the children's wear company. When the facility was slated for closure by prior owners Gerber's Childrenswear in 1996, the university worked with several employees at the plant, enrolling them in courses.
Even with the re-opening of the plant under the name Kent, Inc. a few months after the Gerber closure, a number of workers enrolling in classes continued their studies at UMFK, some finishing two and four-year degree programs.
Kent employees looking for more information on the three-credit tuition waiver or for counseling on options in higher education are encouraged to contact Khoury at (207) 834-7600.