This year’s election day is considered the off-season because there are no candidates on the ballot for state or federal offices, including governor, president, House and Senate. While there are several cities and towns in Maine where important local issues and races will be voted on, there are also five rather significant bond questions that are being put before voters on Nov. 5.
Of the five bond questions, three of them are related to higher education in Maine, and I am enthusiastically supporting all of them. I was the original sponsor of the bond proposal in the Legislature to support the renovations and construction projects at Maine’s colleges and universities, and I am delighted that it won broad, bipartisan support from the Legislature.
Question 2 asks voters to approve $15.5 million for the University of Maine System, which will be used for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education facility and equipment renovations and upgrades. These improvements come at a time when STEM education majors are on the rise. Data show that bachelor’s degrees in STEM-related fields increased by about 25 percent across the University of Maine System from 2007 to 2011. When you factor in all types of degrees — associates, doctorates, masters, etc. — we see an increase of more than 20 percent systemwide.
This is significant on many different levels, but predominantly it shows an increase in enrollments for programs that rely on modern technology and adequate space for hands-on learning. The money will be distributed across the seven campuses of the University of Maine System — from Fort Kent to Portland, and from Machias to Farmington. If we are going to encourage students to stay in Maine, and encourage the best and the brightest to learn here, work here and live here, we need to make this type of investment to ensure they are given the proper tools to succeed.
Question 4 asks voters to approve $4.5 million for Maine Maritime Academy to build a new science facility through a public-private partnership. Last week, Maine Maritime Academy was awarded a research grant to study and develop environmentally savvy fuel for commercial ships. The grant came from the U.S. Department of Transportation because of the quality and level of work that comes out of this institution. The bond question that is being put before voters would fund the building that would house the lab where this groundbreaking research would take place.
The school expects that the building would be ready in just a couple of years, giving students amazing opportunities in Maine Maritime Academy’s engineering, transportation and business programs, and unparalleled training that will propel them to succeed after graduation.
Lastly, Question 5 asks voters to approve $15.5 million across the Maine Community College System to increase capacity to serve students through expanded programs in areas like health care, precision machining, information technology and criminal justice. Like Question 2, approval of this question will affect all seven campuses of the Maine Community College System from Presque Isle to Wells and from Calais to Auburn.
The Maine Community College System has filled a significant gap since the transition from technical colleges to community colleges in 2002. In its first decade, enrollment in the seven colleges of the Maine Community College System has increased by 83 percent to more than 18,500 students in 2012. The Maine Community College System is working, and is producing results, and we should show support for it through Question 5.
The Legislature gave careful consideration to these bond proposals, not moving them forward without discussing the potential for each. To handle the increasing capacity in various programs, to provide a better opportunity for our students, and to simply invest in the education of your friends, family, neighbors and colleagues who will eventually keep driving Maine’s economy forward, I would encourage a “yes” vote on Maine’s higher education bond questions, 2, 4, and 5 on Tuesday, Nov. 5.
Maine Sen. Emily Cain, D-Orono, is running for Maine’s second district seat in Congress.