Amid surging applications, Maine Maritime Academy seeks avenues for expansion

Jim Sanders, a simulation specialist at Maine Maritime Academy, takes the helm of the Bath Iron Works Bridge Simulator at the Castine school.
Mario Moretto | BDN
Jim Sanders, a simulation specialist at Maine Maritime Academy, takes the helm of the Bath Iron Works Bridge Simulator at the Castine school. Buy Photo
By Mario Moretto, BDN Staff
Posted Sept. 16, 2012, at 5:42 p.m.

CASTINE, Maine — Bill Brennan has held the reins as president of Maine Maritime Academy for three years. In that time, he and his administrations established that an enrollment of 850 is the rural school’s admissions sweet spot.

That number, Brennan says, is ideal considering the school’s facilities and faculty. It ensures that class sizes are appropriate, and is about as many students as the training ship State of Maine can handle. Attendance at MMA has floated around that maximum for the past three years.

This year, though, enrollment has boomed at about 960, according to MMA spokesman Mike Whetston. That led to questions from the town of Castine at a recent “Town and Gown” meeting between town officials and MMA administrators.

Interest in the academy is growing, Brennan said in a recent interview, thanks in no small part to MMA’s track record of placing graduates in the jobs they studied for, and quickly. Brennan said about 95 percent of graduates get jobs within 90 days of graduation, some of them landing six-figure salaries right out of college.

Whetston said the academy is pulling in about 1,000 applications per year, more than the entire student body and faculty combined.

“Our applications are coming in hand over fist,” Brennan said last week. “We’re shutting off applications, in some of the majors, in December. That’s unheard of in other institutions.”

Brennan said the high enrollment this year likely will shrink after the first semester. Like most schools, he said, not everyone who starts an academic year finishes it. Still, the growing demand for MMA’s programs has the academy looking at expansion options. But there are constraints.

Said Whetston: “We can’t expand horizontally, and I don’t think the town would take it nicely if we expanded vertically and built 10-story buildings. So the obvious thing to explore, and we are, is long-distance education.”

That could mean a program for students to earn their degrees online, without ever setting foot in Castine, Brennan said. The Loeb-Sullivan School of International Business and Logistics, he said, is already developing a program to offer its courses online. It could be ready in a couple years.

Brennan said the administration has also initiated a process with the academy’s board of trustees to investigate the possibility of satellite campuses, maybe in Brunswick or Penobscot, he said.

But the MMA chief also emphasized the upgrades and program launches at the Academy this year, saying that “growth” is not only a measurement of the student body. It’s also about enhancing the quality of the Academy, he said.

This year, MMA launched a partnership with the Maine Community College System. It opened a newly refurbished Dismukes Hall, and launched the Center for Student Success, where students can find peer tutors and other academic support services. Plans are being drawn up for the construction of the ABS Engineering Center, which will be the first new academic building erected on campus in 30 years.

“I have to look at what is the right size for this campus and how do we grow the academy in a figurative and a literal sense,” Brennan said. “This is a business and we need to be dynamic and look at all growth opportunities.”

Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.

http://bangordailynews.com/2012/09/16/news/hancock/amid-surging-applications-maine-maritime-academy-seeks-avenues-for-expansion/ printed on July 22, 2014