Campus and community leaders are lauding the Legislature and Governor Paul R. LePage for supporting a $49 million investment in the University of Maine System’s workforce development infrastructure that voters will be asked to approve this fall.
In July, Governor LePage signed the University bond bill which the entire Aroostook County legislative delegation voted for, including Senators Troy Jackson and Michael Carpenter and Representatives Chris Johansen, John Martin, Danny Martin, David McCrea, Carol McElwee, Roger Sherman, Trey Stewart and Dustin White. On Thursday, the Secretary of State announced that the University bond would appear as Question 4 on the ballot, as determined by a random drawing.
If Question 4 is successful at the ballot box in November, the University of Maine at Presque Isle and the University of Maine at Fort Kent would share in $7.5 million that would be invested to produce more job-ready graduates in the sectors where rural Maine most needs workers, like nurses.
The $49 million bond would additionally be matched by private and other public monies.
“Maine’s economic success depends upon a skilled workforce. From rural nursing homes and hospitals to Main Street banks and small businesses to national insurance companies, Maine employers say University of Maine System graduates are their top talent — they just need more of them,” said Chancellor James H. Page, a Caribou native and UMFK graduate. “For less than the State now spends to build just one new high school, this bond will fund critical improvements in our campuses that make them more competitive in recruiting and retaining the students who are Maine’s future workforce. The proposed investments are part of a University facilities plan that prioritizes renovation projects and the removal of outdated space to achieve millions in on-going operational savings that will help maintain affordability for our students and their families.”
In a joint statement, UMFK President John Short and UMPI President Ray Rice said, “On behalf of our students and the communities and local employers who depend on our campuses, we thank Governor LePage and the Aroostook County legislative delegation for their leadership and support of this important investment. When approved by voters, this funding will have a truly transformational impact, bringing more students, jobs and opportunity to our campuses and the County.”
Among the planned projects are renovations to Wieden Hall on the Presque Isle campus to modernize healthcare classroom and training labs. In addition to increasing enrollment in allied health programs like physical therapy education, bond-funded investments would bring four-year nursing education to central Aroostook County through a UMFK-led partnership with UMPI. Meanwhile in the St. John Valley, a new student enrollment center would be constructed to house all student and public-facing functions at UMFK and also provide event space for the community.
Kris Doody, RN and CEO of Cary Medical Center and Pines Health Services, said personnel shortages are among the most critical challenges that confront Maine’s rural hospitals.
“Given Maine’s aging healthcare workforce, the success and sustainability of Cary Medical Center and other rural providers demands that Maine’s public universities produce more qualified clinicians, especially nurses,” Doody, a University of Maine at Presque Isle alumna and member of the UMFK Board of Visitors, said. “By increasing classroom capacity, these investments will allow our Universities to expand healthcare program enrollment and their ability to develop the highly skilled workforce we need to care for our communities.”
The University of Maine System has an annual enrollment of nearly 30,000 students and positively impacts the lives of hundreds of thousands of Mainers each year through its educational and cultural offerings as well as outreach and public service to individuals, businesses, organizations and policymakers. The System has an estimated $1.5 billion total statewide economic impact each year, a return of $7.50 for every dollar of State appropriation. Two-thirds of its alumni—more than 120,000 people—live in Maine.
For more information about the University of Maine System’s workforce infrastructure bond and how it will be invested to strengthen Aroostook County, visit www.maine.edu/invest.