Monday, February 25, 2008

Budget cuts for Maine's Community Colleges?

Maine’s Community College System is a comprehensive two-year college system that offers over 300 career and transfer programs, as well as internships, and customized training for business and industry. It remains one of Maine’s key institutions for preparing the state’s workforce for the demands of the 21st century.

The state is fortunate to have seven campuses located across the state of Maine. You can find a MCCS campus in Auburn, Bangor, Fairfield, Presque Isle, South Portland, Calais, and Wells. Additionally, there are off-campus centers are located in Augusta, Bath, Caribou, Dover-Foxcroft, East Millinocket, Ellsworth, Houlton, South Paris, and South Portland.

Knowing of the key role that Maine’s Community Colleges play in building a bridge to economic prosperity for the state, it was with great concern that I read the following article in this morning’s Portland Press Herald.

Here are a few facts to consider about a community college education:

  • 95% of graduates are placed in jobs or continue their education
  • 95% of employed graduates find jobs in Maine
  • The Community Colleges offer the lowest tuition in Maine: $78 per credit hour-or about $2,340 a year Degree enrollment is up 47 percent since 2002 —to 11,078 students

The state’s budget shortfalls have been on the minds of many Mainers and apparently, the deficit is even greater than originally reported.

According to the Press Herald article, “program cuts in the Maine Community College System are being considered, which could have a negative affect on the career plans of many of Maine's community college students."

The Legislature already is dealing with a supplemental budget that proposes $95 million in spending cuts, submitted by Gov. John Baldacci in January. Lawmakers been told to “lop off” an $99 million, due primarily because of lower- than-expected revenue. The exact figure will be determined this week.

The state's Department of Education has been asked to make about $47 million in cuts.

The bulk of those cuts -- $36.8 million -- would be achieved by changing the state education aid funding formula to delay the state's goal of paying 55 percent of public school costs. Higher education, spared in the governor's initial $95 million supplemental budget, now faces nearly $2 million in cuts at the seven community colleges and $6 million in cuts to the University of Maine System.

Budget woes at the statehouse are no laughing matter. However, cuts to programs that help to prepare Maine’s young for employment and success in the workplace are not the place where these ought to be made. Furthermore, graduates of these institutions are very likely to remain in Maine, accessing jobs that pay well and will contribute needed revenue to the state in the future.

Maine needs more opportunity for its young and as I wrote about last week, mid-level skills are where it’s at. Maine’s Community Colleges are one place that’s preparing future workers with these skills to succeed.

Here’s a great essay by Liz Addison, a student at SMCC, on why community colleges are important. Just another reason to resist "pulling the trigger" on cuts to these vital education institutions.

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