The Harold Alfond Foundation has offered another $7.5 million toward the University of Maine System’s push to merge its graduate business programs and law school.
It would be the largest private gift to a project involving multiple campuses in the system’s history.
The system calls the grant a major step toward bringing its concept for the Maine Center for Graduate and Professional Studies to fruition. The center would bring the masters of business administration programs at the University of Maine and University of Southern Maine, as well as the Maine Law School, and University of Southern Maine Muskie School of Public Service graduate programs and its Cutler Institute for Health and Social Policy under one roof in Portland.
“The Maine Center will break down the walls that already are vanishing from the real world of work; will encourage the collaboration and relationship-building that is increasingly valued in the economy; and will better meet Maine and regional employers’ needs,” former gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler, who the system hired to lead creation of the center, said Tuesday in a prepared statement.
The new consortium aims to boost cooperation among the schools and groups involved, and attract more students to a program that can change and evolve quickly as the disciplines of business, law and public policy intermingle and evolve.
This grant brings the total support the Alfond Foundation has offered for planning and creating the center to $9.25 million. The latest $7.5 million gift would be rolled out as the system hits benchmarks in the creation of the graduate center. One of those benchmarks will be raising an additional $7.5 million from “outside sources,” according to system officials.
The center would be based in a yet-to-be-built $94 million building in Portland, and its digital courses will be offered in Orono and other campuses within the University of Maine System.
Chancellor James Page first proposed the center in 2013, and the Alfond Foundation funded the studies and groundwork that fleshed out the concept.
After the initial $15 million is raised — half through this Alfond matching grant and the rest through other fundraising — system officials are expected to start a second fundraising stage to raise money for the construction of the center. Page said the Alfond gift will help cover the project’s first phase — developing the programs that will be housed at the new center and building outreach around the new offerings.
The Maine Center would become the largest feather in the cap of Chancellor Page’s One University initiative, an effort to drive cooperation and collaboration among campuses, focus institutions on their strongest programs, decrease duplication and make the system’s schools more competitive.
“This effort will ally employers with academics and academics with employers,” while providing graduates with a diverse set of skills needed to be successful in Maine’s changing economy, Greg Powell, the Alfond Foundation’s chairman, said Tuesday during a news conference announcing the grant.
Cutler called planning for the center “one of the most difficult jobs [he’d] ever had, and also one of the most important.”
System and campus officials credited faculty and administrators with working together to build the plan for the center to the point where the Alfond Foundation felt the effort was worthy of heavy investment and support.
“Today, it becomes real,” Cutler said of the center.
Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter at @nmccrea213.