December 07, 2019
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UMaine System releases plans for consolidated graduate center in Portland

BANGOR, Maine — Leaders of the University of Maine System on Thursday released details of their plan to unite graduate programs for aspiring businesspeople, lawyers and public administrators under one roof.

The Maine Center for Graduate Professional Studies will bring the system’s existing graduate programs in law, business and public policy together into one entity. The system says it’s the first such center established by a higher education institution in the country.

The hope is that the center’s revamped programs will help reverse the state’s aging demographics by drawing young people to Maine and keeping them here after they earn their graduate degrees. For example, the center hopes to counter a drastic shortage of lawyers in rural Maine by getting new graduates to work in those parts of the state, according to Eliot Cutler, a two-time gubernatorial candidate who UMS hired a year and a half ago to lead the effort.

Cutler said the broad goal of the new center is to have those graduates not only work in underserved professions, but also to establish initiatives, businesses and programs to help boost the state’s economy.

“Maine’s economy is in trouble. We’re shrinking in comparison with the rest of the U.S. and New England,” Cutler said. “That in itself is a huge challenge, and the response thus far hasn’t turned it around.”

UMS on Thursday released an 80-page business plan outlining how the center will be set up, and establishing goals that it says will make the center successful and financially sustainable.

“This center will have a transformative, profound impact on Maine’s economy,” said Eliot Cutler,.

In the first stage of the plan, expected to start in January 2017 and last two to three years, UMS will try to raise $15 million in private funding through grants and foundation support to fund the center’s initiatives.

During this stage, the system would organize leadership in the various graduate programs, work on the curriculum, and start to re-envision the master’s of business administration program with a primary location in Portland, offering courses and instruction there as well as remotely from the flagship University of Maine campus in Orono. Faculty and students would be able to participate without having to commute from one campus to the other.

The second stage of designing and building the center’s new facility would start after the center reaches its first-stage milestones.

It’s not yet clear exactly where the center will be built, but Cutler said Wednesday it would be located either on the University of Southern Maine campus or in downtown Portland. In total, the system expects the project to cost a total of $150 million, including an estimated $90 million-$95 million building the facility around 2021. Most of that cost is expected to be funded through grant and foundation sources, rather than UMS coffers.

Ultimately, the center’s benefactors will have a large say in the center’s future location, Cutler said.

“Wherever it is, this center is going to serve the entire state, and we’ll be investing millions of dollars in the most advanced technology we can,” Cutler added.

Cutler said the building would be designed in a way to “break down the silos and walls” between the graduate programs, promoting new ways of thinking about the relationships between business, law and public policy.

“By 2024, three years after the doors to the new Maine Center building open, the Maine Center degree programs alone will have grown to enroll 600 students,” UMS officials wrote in the business plan. “The Center will host a score of executive education and certificate programs and will be financially self-supporting. By the middle of the following decade, the $150 million capital investment in the center will be returning billions of dollars in direct and indirect benefits to Maine communities.”

The University of Maine System Board of Trustees expects to meet at noon Sunday at University College in East Millinocket to review the business plan and consider whether to endorse it and move toward the first phase.

To this point, The Harold Alfond Foundation has covered all expenses for planning the center. UMS says that it will continue to seek private investments and grant money to push the effort forward.

The UMS board hasn’t approved the project in full, and will continue to review and consider new developments and steps throughout the center’s creation.

“We’ll still be getting a lot of feedback from faculty, and we hope to get a lot of support as well,” Cutler said.

The full business plan is available on the UMS website.

Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter at @nmccrea213.

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