UMaine trustees launch initiative to create $150M graduate center

October 26, 2016 in News

Publication: Mainebiz

UMaine trustees launch initiative to create $150M graduate center

The University of Maine System's trustees in a special meeting on Sunday unanimously approved the first phase of a $15 million fund-raising effort for an ambitious $150 million plan to create a new graduate center for business, law and public policy in Portland.

The resolution approved by the trustees doesn't fully commit the University of Maine System to the $150 million capital investment that would be required to fulfill the business plan for the proposed Maine Center, which calls for a new $93.6 million building and a $45 million endowment. At this point, it simply authorizes UMaine Chancellor James Page to seek additional funding from private foundations and other funding sources, including the Harold Alfond Foundation, which contributed more than $2 million to the planning process that led to the development of the business plan.

"The Maine Center plan is aspirational, exemplifying our 'One University' commitment to move our state forward with innovative programing and stronger engagement with Maine's business, legal and community leaders," Page said in a statement announcing the initiative.

Maine Center CEO Eliot Cutler, an unsuccessful Independent candidate in Maine's 2010 and 2014 gubernatorial races and a founding partner of the environmental law firm Cutler & Stanfield LLP, led the 18-month assessment of UMaine's graduate programs that culminated in the graduate center's business plan. That effort included the establishment of a 100-member advisory board, discussions with faculty and more than 400 meetings in town halls, board rooms, law offices, judicial buildings and college campuses.

"The willingness of so many people inside and outside the university to engage with us shows how necessary everyone recognizes these changes and reforms are for the rebirth and growth of Maine's economy," Cutler said in a statement. "By breaking down the walls and silos in graduate programs that already are vanishing from the real world of work, the Maine Center will breed the kinds of collaborative, relationship-building, analytic and communications skills that are increasingly valued by Maine and national employers."

Why now?

The proposed Maine Center will bring under one roof in Portland the UMaine system's single, merged MBA program, the Maine Law School and the Muskie School of Public Service with its graduate programs in public health and public policy and management. It also calls for a conference center and an incubator/accelerator and would house the Cutler Institute for Health and Social Policy.

The business plan explicitly states that the initiative is in response to the needs of Maine businesses for workers with higher-level skills: "Increasing numbers of jobs in the new economy require a higher level of educational attainment, and the levels of bachelor, graduate and professional degree attainment in Maine are substantially below the national median."

"In this time of global connectivity and competition the professional education provided by our public universities must be irrevocably linked to the firms, businesses and organizations that are creating opportunity across our state and building our economy," Sam Collins, chairman of the UMaine System board of trustees, said in a statement.

The business plan also seeks to turn around recent trends of declining enrollments among all the graduate programs in the UMaine System, in part due to increased in-state competition: "The growth rates for MBA degrees conferred by Husson University, Thomas College and the UMaine System institutions for the period 2002 to 2014 illustrate a considerable loss of market share for the University of Maine and University of Southern Maine," the business plan states.

Next steps

Stage 1 of the plan will begin in January 2017 and will carry a timeline of two to three years to meet fund-raising milestones. It also calls for the UMaine and USM MBA programs to be integrated by the fall of 2017; the establishment of the Maine Center Ventures; and development of new programs designed to meet the business plan's objectives. The UMaine universities will also continue to support the business, public policy and legal professional graduate programs at current funding levels of approximately $3.2 million annually.

Once Stage 1 benchmarks have been met, Stage 2 envisions consulting with foundation partners, Maine's professional community, the universities and the UMaine board to make sure the financial support and essential programs are in place to proceed with building a new $93.6 million Maine Center facility in Portland.

If all goes according to the business plan's timetable, the Maine Center building would open in 2021. It is expected to achieve a 600-student enrollment in its graduate programs by 2024.

"The center will host a score of executive education and certificate programs and will be financially self-supporting," the business plan states. "By the middle of the following decade [i.e. 2035], the $150 million capital investment in the center will be returning billions of dollars in direct and indirect benefits to Maine communities."




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