The gradual transition from an industrial-based economy to a technology-based economy, from the Taylor-style shop floor to the team-oriented production operation, brought enormous challenges to the technical colleges as well as tremendous growth in enrollment and diversity of offerings.
The evolution of the workplace had wide-ranging implications for the technical colleges, including: assuring that faculty and other employees’ skills and credentials are keeping pace with changing occupational requirements; maintaining up-to-date instructional equipment; expanding programming to meet the needs of changing and emerging industries; providing more flexible scheduling and support services for the increasing adult student population; responding to heightened demand from employers for customized employee training; increasing access through online courses and off-campus centers; and supporting the growing need for lifelong learning by facilitating the transition from high school to technical college, and from technical college to four-year colleges and universities.
Another result of the changing economy and workplace was a growing need by employers for employees with a strong academic foundation to build upon as work processes and technologies evolve as well as strong complementary skills, such as communication, teamwork and problem solving. For the technical colleges, this resulted in a strengthening and diversification of academic course offerings, and incorporating the “soft” skills into curricula, as well as utilizing technology in virtually all aspects of the learning process.
Despite — and in part because of – the economic challenges of the state and heightened competition for high-skill jobs, legislators seeking ways to fuel Maine’s economic growth supported an important technical college initiative in the mid-1990s geared to helping Maine people make the transition to the high-skill jobs of the new economy. The Maine Quality Centers enabled the colleges to offer direct assistance to State and local economic development efforts, through customized training for new and expanding businesses.
In addition, following years of legislative debate over the shortage of technical education opportunities in the southern-most region of the state, the Legislature established the seventh technical college, York County Technical College, in 1994. The new college opened its doors to students in the Fall of 1995. By 2002, the college was serving over 1,000 credit students, and had become a critical partner to the region’s businesses.
During this decade, the escalating demand for highly skilled, technologically proficient workers, led to three separate legislative commissions which assessed the enrollment capacity of the technical colleges to meet Maine’s needs. All three groups endorsed the goal of expanding the technical colleges’ enrollment to at least 10,000 degree students per year. In 1999, the Legislature endorsed a long-term plan to begin expanding access to the colleges, making a down-payment on an incremental growth plan. Additionally, the Legislature and Maine people endorsed a major capital improvements bond issue for the technical colleges, providing $26.4 million to invest in high-tech facilities and improvements.
Increasing demand for people with higher levels of education also resulted in a significant push in the 1990s to increase transfer opportunities for students. By the end of the decade, transfer arrangements with four-year colleges and universities were in place for most associate degree programs.
In addition, the growing concern about Maine’s low college participation and attainment levels, and the growing need for a low-cost two-year college option, led the technical colleges in 1999 to begin offering the associate in arts degree, a core offering of comprehensive two-year colleges. While general education courses had always been a part of the technical college curriculum, this degree represents the first-ever full liberal studies credential offered by the technical colleges. Until 1999, Maine was one of a few states in the nation, and the only New England state, not to offer the associate in arts option at a low-cost two-year college.
By the end of the decade, growth in occupational programs and high demand for the new Associate in Arts resulted in an enrollment growth of 78 percent between 1989 and 2001.