December 15, 2018
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Maine’s economic success tomorrow depends on investing in our students today

George Danby | BDN
George Danby | BDN

At the University of Maine and the University of Maine at Machias, we wrestle daily with the following fact: Maine’s shortage of professional and skilled workers is acute. Our response has been to partner with leading employers statewide to address workforce challenges.

Those employers know that student success is directly related to Maine’s economic vitality, and ensuring student success requires critical campus-based investments.

In their “ Making Maine Work” report focused on those critical investments, the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, Maine Development Foundation and Educate Maine identified five goals, reflecting the priorities of more than 1,000 employers surveyed. Those goals are led by the need to grow the size and the skills of the state’s workforce, so that 60 percent of Maine workers have a post-high school credential of value by 2025.

“Maine’s labor force shortage is putting a lid on our potential job, income and economic growth,” the report reads.

The greatest job growth in Maine is in fields that require four-year and advanced degrees, including nursing and engineering. Employers say the second highest priority that Maine’s next governor must address is the availability of a professional workforce. The University of Maine System campuses are uniquely positioned to address the workforce shortage, and passage of Question 4 on Nov. 6 will help ensure that they can.

[Editorial: Four bonds will further needed investment in Maine]

In the face of Maine’s demographic challenges, the University of Maine and University of Maine at Machias have increased their student recruitment efforts. UMaine’s first-year classes in the past three years were the largest in the university’s history. UMaine and UMM maintain close collaborations with Maine employers to ensure that our students bring research-based knowledge to succeed in the workplace.

When opportunities like Question 4 arise, UMaine and UMM focus on where such investment can do the most good in meeting the state’s critical needs.

We take cues from the state’s businesses and industries.

At UMaine, $1.5 million would be used to modernize in-demand science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) classrooms to support students in nursing, computer science and other fields. At UMM, a $3 million investment would transform essential science classrooms and buildings to support the growing needs of the state’s marine economy and to help drive Washington County’s economic future.

At the other University of Maine System campuses, other investments made possible by the $49 million bond, matched in private and other public funds, will improve and expand classrooms and labs to provide modern education and training in sectors where Maine most needs workers. Just as important, upgrades to some student residence halls, including two at UMM, and the modernization of educational resources, such as a new career center at the University of Southern Maine, will help recruit and retain students, and contribute to their success.

Support for Question 4 will provide historic opportunities for our students, our state and the University of Maine System campuses. This bond comes to Maine voters with the support of the governor and Legislature because public university campuses have the greatest need and present the greatest opportunity. In recent weeks, support for the bond has come from community leadership statewide, including the Bangor Area Chamber of Commerce, Sunrise County Economic Council, Maine State Chamber of Commerce and many others.

Question 4 focuses on a top priority for Maine: workforce development. The state’s public universities must attract and retain students to strengthen Maine’s economy, and to do that, competitive facilities and infrastructure must be in place. The $49 million bond package will advance student success and help prepare the workforce that Maine employers need to grow their businesses and grow Maine’s future.

As the state’s land grant institution, the University of Maine was founded more than 150 years ago with a focus on meeting Maine’s needs. The commitment has been — and always will be — increasing the number of graduates ready for well-paying, high-growth careers in Maine and beyond.

Then as now, Maine’s economic success depends on an investment in students — tomorrow’s skilled workforce.

Joan Ferrini-Mundy is president of the University of Maine and the University of Maine at Machias.

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