AUBURN, Maine – Governor Janet Mills today visited Central Maine Community College to promote her plan to provide up to two years of free community college for the high school graduates most impacted by the pandemic. The proposal, announced during last night’s State of the State address, would help graduate students unburdened by student debt and prepare them to fill critical shortages in Maine’s workforce.
Governor Mills was joined on her visit, which featured a tour of a Building Construction classroom, by Christine Kendall, CEO of Auburn-based HE Callahan Construction; Maine Community College President David Daigler; Central Maine Community College President Dr. Betsy Libby; and Maine Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Heather Johnson.
“This proposal is about our students, our workforce, our employers, and our future. Community college is a powerful tool and my proposal will ensure that high school students most impacted by the pandemic have the opportunity to earn a free college education and enter Maine’s workforce with a reliable, good-paying, and in-demand job,” said Governor Janet Mills. “From programs in construction and electrical lineworker technology to nursing and mental health, students will be able to obtain the skills and credentials they need to help solve Maine’s biggest workforce challenges. I want young people to know that the future belongs to them, and we want to help you embrace it.”
Under the Governor’s plan, students must first accept any grants or other scholarships awarded to them, with the last dollar costs of tuition and fees for a two-year associate degree or one-year certificate program at a Maine Community College System school covered for students from the high school graduating classes of 2020-2023. To qualify, students must enroll full-time earning 30 credits per year, qualify for in-state tuition or commit to living and working in Maine. Students already enrolled in a two-year program would be eligible to receive funding to cover their second year of study. Targeting the graduating high school classes of 2020-2023 directly benefits young Mainers hardest hit by the pandemic, many of whom suspended their post-high school plans.
“Two years of free community college sends a powerful message to young Mainers that we recognize the challenges they face and we want to help them move forward. We have hundreds of programs, with something for everyone interested in pursuing a degree or certificate,” said David Daigler, President of the Maine Community College System. “This program will help young Mainers get the skills they need for a great future and help build a stronger Maine.”
“Maine’s commercial construction industry is growing, but there just aren’t enough qualified workers,” said Christine Kendall, CEO of HE Callahan Construction in Auburn. “Two years of free community college will prepare young Mainers to enter the job market with a good-paying, reliable job. This critical initiative couldn’t come at a better time.”
Approximately 8,000 young Maine people are expected to benefit from this program – and as college graduates, they will have higher earning power, enter a career track faster, be more “recession-proof,” and earn significantly more money over their careers than high school graduates. Many of these students will enter the workforce in their early 20s, now with high value degrees and certificates and with specialized skills and abilities in high-demand areas. If approved, as soon as this fall and on an ongoing basis, the Maine Community College System is expected to deliver a report to the Administration evaluating the program’s uptake and effectiveness with recommendations about its future.
“Maine’s 10-Year Economic Development Strategy set a goal of drawing 75,000 people into the labor force by 2029. The governor’s plan will help Maine reach that goal by directly investing in Maine youth, providing thousands of students with the skills they need to succeed in good-paying, recession-proof jobs,” said Heather Johnson, Commissioner of the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development.
The $20 million plan, which will be included in the Governor’s forthcoming supplemental budget proposal, is part of a comprehensive effort to make the higher education more affordable and accessible for Maine youth. The proposal would also prevent tuition hikes for students of the University of Maine System and overhaul the Opportunity Maine Tax Credit to make it useful to more Mainers with college debt.