Maine’s leading higher education officials urged lawmakers to strengthen the ties between the economy and a strong education system. The presidents of the Maine Community College System and Maine Maritime Academy and the Chancellor of the Maine University System made the remarks Thursday morning during a Joint Convention of the Maine House and Senate.
“Our education leaders hit the nail on the head,” said Speaker of the House Mark Eves. “Our higher education system is critical to transforming our economy as we build pathways for success for the people of Maine. They are our partners for strengthening our workforce, attracting good-paying jobs to our state, and innovating our traditional industries with investments in research and development.”
President of the State of Maine’s Community College System, John Fitzsimmons, thanked the Legislature for its focus on closing the skills gap as part of the work of the Joint Select Committee on Workforce and Maine’s Economic Future.
Fitzsimmons also said within ten years, 40 percent of Maine’s 7,300 paper workers will be over sixty years old. He said the survival of those mills will depend on their having a highly skilled workforce. At the same time enrollment is up at all of the state’s community colleges. The need to continue to make investments in Maine’s higher educational systems is greater than ever.
“Maine people have gotten the message. They are applying to our colleges in record numbers, but we are not in a position to respond,” said Fitzsimmons. “In each of the last two years our colleges have had to turn away over 4,000 students from the courses and programs they need to complete a degree.”
A recent report for Southern Maine Community College shows that 4,000 jobs in Maine go unfilled due to a lack of skilled workers.
Lawmakers also heard from The University Chancellor James H. Page, Ph.D and President of the Maine Maritime Academy Dr. William J. Brennan. They talked about the importance of making investments in research and development and working with industry partners to grow Maine’s economy.
“We have serious economic challenges that require us to make key investments in education and workforce development,” said Senate President Justin Alfond. “We must all work together and renew the partnership with business, government, education and workers, to move the needle to strengthen Maine’s economy. Democrats have made addressing this challenge a top priority.”
A regional study
Maine’s economy has stalled while other states around the country and in New England have begun to see job growth.