College, to be sure, is not for everyone. If you know at a young age exactly what career you want to pursue and are confident that you can get a job without a degree, perhaps you can skip it. This might apply to you if you’re supremely talented in a certain field (especially arts or athletics), or if you’re happy to take over the family business or work in a technical field. If you’re lucky enough to be in this position, there’s no reason you shouldn’t go ahead and get a jump on your career without accruing student loan debt.

However, if you’re unsure what you want to do professionally, college offers you an excellent chance to broaden your horizons. It exposes you to a wider world, and you may find your true passion. This is especially true if you’re from a smaller town, where the opportunities available to you are more limited. Sadly, college is getting more and more expensive every year, becoming farther and farther out of reach for many Americans.

Fortunately, there is a program designed for the needs of those who want to attend college but who lack the financial means: Upward Bound. Over more than 50 years, Upward Bound has proven enormously successful at giving low-income students the chance for a college education, with a special focus on rural students who are the first in their family to attend college. Regardless of what one thinks of the merits of this program, the reason that hundreds of Maine students may be denied from accessing it – and subsequently, higher education – is completely absurd.

You see, a half an inch of blank space may end up keeping Mainers in Aroostook County from going to college.

When the University of Maine at Presque Isle applied for its annual grant to access Upward Bound funds, they accidentally formatted some of the text with 1.5 inches of space instead of double-spacing it per the requirements. As a result, the U.S. Department of Education not only refused to even look at UMPI’s application, but they also would not grant the university the chance to correct this mistake. This is not a substantive error; UMPI didn’t forget to include a section of data or ignore questions required by the application. It was a minor mistake on two pages of a 65-page application – pages that weren’t even required for the application.

This is, essentially, the equivalent of a professor flunking a student for an entire semester because he forgot one punctuation mark in a 50-page paper. Moreover, the appeals process offered by the Department of Education is even more nonsensical than the NFL allowing players to appeal decisions made by the commissioner to the commissioner: It doesn’t exist. That’s right – technically, UMPI lacks the means to appeal this decision.

This is exactly the kind of thing that leads people to detest government: irrational, impractical decisions that harm people’s lives for no good reason. Conservatives often say that they wish government were run like a business, but in this case if the Department of Education is being run like a business, that business is United Airlines. Politics and ideology aside, we all should be able to agree that the government we have should work for the people, no matter its size.

Fortunately, UMPI and its students who depend on Upward Bound have an advocate willing to work on their behalf: Maine’s congressional delegation. Sen. Susan Collins, Sen. Angus King, Rep. Chellie Pingree and Rep. Bruce Poliquin have all banded together on this one, seeking to have this decision reversed. They’re appealing directly to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to overturn the decision of the bureaucrats who work for her.

Now, this sort of bipartisan work doesn’t get a lot of attention – that tends to go toward the high-profile battles over budgets and Supreme Court nominations. At the end of the day, though, it’s exactly this kind of work that constitutes much of what members of Congress and their staffs do all day. They frequently work on behalf of Mainers to cut through red tape and get things done.

They’ve placed the ball firmly in DeVos’ court. She has the opportunity to show that she can be reasonable by reconsidering UMPI’s application or giving the school a chance to revise it. Or she can deny hundreds of Maine kids a college education over a minor formatting error. Please, Madame Secretary, do the right thing: That space was not intentionally left blank.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: jimfossel