Maine and the rest of the country are struggling with long-simmering workforce issues. Aging populations, wages, work-life balance and the cost of education are not new issues, but the COVID-19 pandemic has acted as an accelerator, making them impossible to ignore .
Employers need skilled workers to develop economic activity and stimulate innovation. Residents of Maine want meaningful work that pays a fair wage. You could present these two perspectives as being in conflict, but in my experience as president of the University of Southern Maine they are very concerted – not in conflictâ and the solution is to make higher education accessible. to more Mainers.
Across the country, statistics show that a region’s economic prosperity increases with the number of residents who have obtained a bachelor’s degree. Maine’s current rate is around 44%, with a target set by MaineSpark of reaching 60% graduates / enrollment by 2025. As we reflect on how we can achieve that target, the potential of the Lewiston-Auburn area is palpable and holds the key. to move Maine forward. This is why we are delighted to announce the formation of the âLA to BAâ initiative hosted at our Lewiston-Auburn campus.
This new initiative will put a renewed focus on the untapped potential of the Lewiston-Auburn region and work to remove barriers to higher education. Already, our Lewiston-Auburn campus is home to our Leadership, Social and Behavioral Studies, and Occupational Therapy programs with many other course options available virtually and on campus. Recently, we added two new doctoral programs and appointed Jeanne Paquette, USM Vice President for Business and Workforce Engagement, as our first administrator in Lewiston-Auburn.
The Lewiston-Auburn Community Advisory Board has identified five areas of focus that will have the greatest impact on overall graduation and economic impact, ranging from creating a strong pipeline of workers to the health assistance to high school students to get free college credit.
Health care: Even before the first case of COVID-19 was reported in Maine, we faced a significant shortage of nursing and care professionals in Androscoggin County. To meet this need and give students an education they can immediately put into practice, USM will focus on academic programs to help the workforce increase graduation and prepare for careers in health care and social services.
Early schooling / double registration: Early Enrollment and Dual Enrollment programs give high school students the opportunity to explore college-level courses before putting on a graduation gown and cap. Students who participate in these programs have less college debt, increased college aspirations, and higher levels of graduation. We plan to expand these programs and enroll more high school students in the Lewiston-Auburn area.
Commercial commitment: Our goal is to actively respond to the needs of our business community. This involves identifying the workforce needs of companies and creating programs that can ensure our students are ready for careers. Additionally, we are keen to partner and collaborate with organizations that can provide experiential learning opportunities for our students and help adult learners graduate.
New Americans: The Lewiston-Auburn area is home to a vibrant New Mainers community, and USM is committed to delivering programs that help graduate and improve the skills of our new residents. We recognize the unique challenges our immigrant community faces, from transfers of records and certifications to financial hardship and trauma. We will work closely with the New Mainer community to ensure their voices are heard as we develop the LA to BA roadmap.
Partnerships with community colleges: Each year, USM welcomes approximately 250 students from Maine’s strong community college system to complete their four-year degree. We are committed to reducing financial barriers for these students and helping them make the transition to four-year degree programs. Additionally, we strive to help students navigate academic pathways and take advantage of experiential learning opportunities to ensure career preparation.
To kick off the LA to BA initiative, we will be undertaking a community needs assessment to ensure we hear a variety of perspectives and address the most pressing needs when it comes to earning a bachelor’s degree. This will include one-on-one interviews with community leaders, representatives from diverse backgrounds and community members.
Your input is essential to this process, and we ask that if you are contacted to participate in the needs assessment, please join us in helping to create a program that will impact Maine for decades to come.
Glenn Cummings is president of the University of Southern Maine.