Question 5: Do you favor a $15,500,000 bond issue to upgrade buildings, classrooms and laboratories on the 7 campuses of the Maine Community College System in order to increase capacity to serve more students through expanded programs in health care, precision machining, information technology, criminal justice and other key programs?
The Maine Community College System has experienced 83 percent growth in the last 10 years, putting tremendous pressure on the system to expand. The colleges have had to turn away more than 4,000 students — mostly from Maine — each year over the last two years.
This $15.5 million bond is designed to directly relieve some of that pressure and allow the system to grow 13 percent by enrolling another 2,400 students.
The funding will be directed to in-demand locations and programs. For example, York County Community College has only one building, constructed for 1,000 students. There are currently 1,600 students using it. The bond will provide $3.4 million for a new academic building on campus, to include classrooms and laboratories.
Another new building with labs, classrooms and updated technologies will be constructed at Central Maine Community College in Auburn to address the backlog of students applying there. The bond will also support renovations and expansions of buildings at the remaining colleges in Bangor, Fairfield, Presque Isle, South Portland and Brunswick, and Calais.
Maine must boost the number of people earning postsecondary degrees in order to build a reliable and skilled workforce. The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce projects that more than 65 percent of Maine jobs will require some level of postsecondary training by 2020. Right now only about 43 percent of working-age adults have postsecondary training.
Degrees must be aligned as much as possible with needs in the business community. Which brings us to another reason to support this bond: The money would be used to build, upgrade, retrofit and equip buildings to strengthen in-demand occupational programs, such as heavy equipment maintenance and operation, health sciences, small engine technology, information technology and agricultural sciences.
The system offers programs with a clear outcome for employers; an advisory council examines each program to ensure it’s meeting business needs. At the Midcoast Campus in Brunswick, for example, students have been trained to be able to work at every company that has moved to Brunswick Landing, formerly the Brunswick Naval Air Station.
Despite an increased need, state funds have lagged. In 2000, state funding represented 52 percent of the system’s budget, Fitzsimmons said. This year, it makes up 29 percent.
The bond fills a demonstrated need and has great potential to provide a valuable economic return. We encourage a “yes” vote Nov. 5.