Investments in both our public university system and our community college system will have long-term dividends for the State of Maine as well as for the people of Maine
On Tuesday, March 1, the Joint Standing Committee on Appropriations & Financial Affairs and Education & Cultural Affairs held hearings for the part of LD 1995, Governor Janet Mills’ FY22-23 Supplemental Budget proposal, that pertains to investments in higher education. The testimony below was prepared for Dana F. Connors, president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, and delivered to the committee by Linda Caprara, senior governmental relations specialist, in support of these targeted investments in Maine’s higher education systems.
“I am Dana Connors, president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, a statewide business organization consisting of a network of more than 5,000 large and small employers across Maine. I am here today to support the proposed investments in Maine’s high education system contained in Governor Mills’ FY22-23 Supplemental Budget (LD 1995). Investments in both our public university system and our community college system will have long-term dividends for the State of Maine as well as for the people of Maine.
Approval of the $7.9 million in one-time FY23 funding proposed by the Governor will allow the University of Maine to again keep tuition flat for Maine students for the seventh time in a decade. Keeping access to high-quality education at an R1 designated institution affordable for Maine families as our economy recovers from the pandemic is an investment in the future of Maine. It sends a clear message to students – whether traditional or non-traditional – that their education has value here as they train to be employees and entrepreneurs of the very near future.
We support the allotment of $7.5 million in on-going debt service, because it addresses this debt crisis without putting those costs directly on students. We commend the University System for doing its part through budget allocations, removal of obsolete spaces, and leveraging public-private partnerships. As I understand it, this debt service measure would generate nearly $70 million to continue this momentum and leverage funds from other sources. These funds will impact many in the UMaine System as it involves improvements at all UMS campuses and infrastructure modernizations – all of which are essential to developing talent and innovation Maine employers and economy need from our universities.
We also support the investments in Maine’s community college system. The $20 million allocation for the Free College initiative will go a long way to help qualifying students who struggle to find the last dollars to pay for their tuition, often making higher education seem impossible for them. This “last dollar scholarship” initiative would provide two years of free community college to the Maine high school graduates most affected by the pandemic: the Classes of 2020, 2021, 2022, and 2023.
The pandemic has stretched the workforce and the health care system to its near-breaking point. The supplemental budget also includes $2.5 million – matched by $2.5 million from hospital partners – to double the number of nurses graduating from our community colleges’ nursing programs. Maine was in dire need of nurses prior to the pandemic, and now the need has been exacerbated. Expanding these nursing programs creates an opportunity for more Mainers to train for meaningful, good-paying jobs.
Registered nurses require licenses to practice, and, as a requirement of licensure, nurses must have a degree from an accredited institution. With five fully accredited nursing programs, and a sixth program scheduled to begin in fall 2022, the Maine Community College System is uniquely positioned to help address Maine’s nursing shortage. Currently, these nursing programs are full, and without additional, sustained funding, we cannot increase capacity while satisfying accreditation and nursing board standards.
These investments also align with the goals of MaineSpark and those outlined in Maine's 10-year economic plan – 60 percent of Mainers with a credential of value by 2025. Encouraging our young people to stay in Maine and use their earned credentials or degrees will make significant progress toward meeting our workforce needs. These incentives will not only encourage them to stay, but also have the potential to attract out-of-state families to live and work in a state that values the education of their children.
In closing, I’d like to remind you that there are often two things that unite all Mainers, regardless of where we live, what we do, or what our politics might be – our economy and our people. We want our economy to be robust, and we want our people to be successful. Maine’s higher education system plays a key role in achieving both.”
For additional information or questions, please contact Dana Connors by calling (207) 623-4568, ext. 103, or by emailing email@example.com.