Maine’s Community Colleges are dedicated to educating today’s students for tomorrow’s career opportunities in an environment that supports personal and professional growth, innovation, and lifelong learning. The colleges are committed to enhancing the quality of life and economic prosperity of Maine through excellence in education.
History & Mission
The mission of the Maine Community College System is to provide associate degree, diploma and certificate programs directed at the educational, occupational and technical needs of the State’s citizens and the workforce needs of the State’s employers. The primary goals of the System are to create an educated, skilled and adaptable labor force which is responsive to the changing needs of the economy of the State and to promote local, regional and statewide economic development. (Public Law, Chapter 431)
The history of Maine’s community colleges began nearly seven decades ago, with the creation of the Maine Vocational Institute (MVI) in Augusta. Today, the state’s seven community colleges annually serve nearly 30,000 individuals through 2-year degree programs, continuing education, and workforce development initiatives. The history of the colleges—detailed below—reflects strong and enduring statewide support for their mission and vision.
The creation of the first Maine MVI was reflective of a far-reaching national movement in public education. As employment opportunities for technicians in defense and civilian occupations were increasing in the post-World War II era, so was demand for access to postsecondary programs geared toward trade and technical jobs. Concurrently, during the post-Depression years, demand from high-school graduates for further education was leading to the proliferation of open-access community colleges around the nation. The pressure to create more and alternative options for postsecondary education permanently changed the face of public higher education, opening its doors to citizens of all ages and backgrounds, and broadening its scope beyond the liberal arts to include occupational and technical preparation.
In Maine, the expansion of postsecondary vocational education opportunities was fueled in part by a master plan issued by the state Department of Education in 1962, which called for three new Vocational Technical Institutes (VTI) and proposed the development of Maine’s secondary vocational education regions and centers.
During that decade, a total of five new institutes were established: Northeastern Maine Vocational Institute in Presque Isle (1961), Androscoggin State Vocational Institute in Lewiston (1963), Eastern Maine VTI in Bangor (1963), Washington County VTI in Calais (1967), and Kennebec Valley VTI in Waterville (1969).
From the beginning, VTI programs were based on the philosophy that remains deeply embedded in the community colleges today: to prepare people for careers as well as for future growth and career change. The balance of objectives was reflected in the curricula, which included a combination of technical and general education courses.
As the VTIs established a history of success and growth, the institutions came into their own as a viable, respected part of Maine’s public higher education system. With steadily increasing enrollment and high graduate placement, the institutes were clearly filling an important role, preparing Maine citizens for technical careers, and providing employers with a much-needed pool of skilled workers. At the same time, the institutes’ role had broadened: they had become integral, valued parts of their communities; affordable, accessible centers of learning; key partners in local development efforts; and valued training providers for area employers. The growing public support that the VTIs enjoyed among policy makers and, especially, among their local constituencies, has become a hallmark of the institutes that continues today.
The first, in 1986, was the separation of the VTIs from State government and the establishment of the Maine Vocational Technical Institute System as an autonomous system, similar in structure to the University of Maine System. Fueling the change was the belief by members of the Legislature that the only way the VTIs could be allowed to flourish and achieve their full potential in meeting the growing needs of the state was with higher visibility at the State level and an administrative structure independent from the State, allowing for greater flexibility to respond to rapid shifts in the labor market, and business needs. A Board of Trustees was established by the Legislature as the System’s sole policy-setting authority, and a System Office was created to serve as staff to the Board, and to provide coordination, technical support and state-level leadership to the colleges.
The second landmark was in 1989 when the names of the VTIs were changed to Technical Colleges. This change was intended to clarify the distinction between the secondary and postsecondary vocational education systems, and to more accurately reflect their role as institutions of higher education.
The third landmark was a $20,210,600 bond issue passed by Maine voters in 1989 for capital improvements at the six technical colleges. This bond issue provided a significant injection of funds to develop state-of-the-art facilities, as well as master campus plans for each of the six colleges.
For the System Office and newly-established Board of Trustees, a major focus of the late 1980s and early 1990s was the process of assuming the administrative and oversight functions previously provided by the State, including financial and accounting systems, personnel services, collective bargaining, program coordination, administration of Carl Perkins funds, representation before the Legislature and other functions. This process was accentuated by increasing governmental regulations at both the state and federal levels.
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.
In 2002, Maine was in the midst of a growing dialogue among policy makers and others about Maine’s low college participation and attainment levels. Central to those discussions was a growing consensus that Maine’s lack of a comprehensive community college system—which in most other states provides low-cost access to higher education—was a major factor in Maine’s low college-going rates.
The broadening role of the MTCS was central to policy makers’ discussions. For the technical colleges, the issue was timely. With the addition in 1999 of the associate in arts degree, Maine’s technical colleges now offered all the credentials typically offered by community colleges. In 2001, the MTCS community underwent in-depth discussions to affirm the core services and attributes of the technical colleges as comprehensive two-year colleges. The result of those internal discussions was the endorsement of the Statement of Core Services and Attributes of Maine’s Technical Colleges: A Comprehensive Two-year College System. Additionally, all seven colleges began the process of transitioning to the accrediting body used by most higher education institutions: the New England Association of Schools & Colleges Commission on Institutions of Higher Education.
In 2002, leaders of Maine’s Technical Colleges proposed that the colleges—which had many of the features and attributes of community colleges—become true comprehensive community colleges. The proposal was presented across Maine and was endorsed by education, business and policy leaders throughout the state. In Spring 2003, Governor Baldacci proposed legislation officially establishing the Maine Community College System, which won strong bipartisan endorsement by the 121st Maine Legislature. The Governor’s bill officially changing the MTCS to the Maine Community College System passed on March 27, and was signed into law on March 31st.
The official establishment of the Maine Community College System marked the beginning of an era of major growth. Enrollment in the seven colleges has grown by 83% since 2002, to 18,561 in the fall of 2012. True to its broader mission, the MCCS, together with the University of Maine System, has created a far-reaching transfer agreement: Advantage U. The agreement offers students who complete an associate degree in liberal studies streamlined admission to any University of Maine institution. The MCCS also launched a hallmark Early College for ME program, to provide a bridge to college for high school students who do not have plans for college yet who have academic potential.
In 2006, Governor Baldacci called for the appointment of an independent Advisory Council of state leaders to examine future workforce and educational demands and the capacity of the community colleges to meet those demands. The work of the Governor’s Community College Advisory Council has provided strategic direction to the MCCS as it seeks to provide greater access to higher education for more Maine people, and it led to the creation of The Foundation for Maine’s Community College System in 2009 to support the continued growth of the colleges.
By November of 2012, the Foundation’s first capital campaign had raised $23 million for capital upgrades, equipment and technology, expansion of academic programming, and student support at all seven colleges. Donations to the Foundation have resulted in new pilot programs to help adults with some college credit complete their degree and encourage high school students to enter the field of precision machining. Other gifts are making new or expanded programs possible in veterinary tech (YCCC), online early childhood education (KVCC), nursing (CMCC), integrated manufacturing (YCCC), and agricultural sciences (KVCC).
The Foundation is also helping to support the community colleges’ first major campus expansions in over two decades—at SMCC’s new MidCoast Campus located at the former Brunswick Naval Air Station and at KVCC’s Harold Alfond Campus in Hinckley, ME. As the MCCS prepares to mark its first decade as a community college system, the new campuses offer it the potential to provide thousands more Maine people with a college degree.
Today, the seven community colleges offer a diverse mix of programs and services designed to meet Maine’s work force needs, both regionally and statewide, and prepare individuals for continued education at four-year colleges. In all, over 30,000 Maine people are served by the state’s community colleges each year—through degree programs, customized training, and credit and non-credit offerings. Those offerings include:
- Nearly 300 one- and two-year program options in health care, computers, automotive technology, construction, early childhood education, electrical & electronics, engineering technology, public safety, hospitality, business, metals manufacturing, liberal studies, and many others.
- Extensive continuing education offerings, including credit and non-credit courses, workshops, seminars, and customized training programs for technical, professional, and managerial-level employees—offered either on campus or at work sites during the day, evenings, and weekends.
- Fast-track education and training for new and expanding companies through the Maine Quality Centers, offered free of charge to qualifying businesses and trainees.
- Programs designed to improve the transition from high school to college and the workplace: Early College for ME and On Course for College.
- Admission to any University of Maine System campus through Advantage U—for associate in arts graduates—as well as dozens of other articulation agreements with public and private four-year institutions.
- Partnerships with Maine’s Adult Education providers to support lifelong learning and facilitate the transition of adults into a community college.
- Online courses to help place- and time-bound students access college courses and ease their journey toward a degree.
- A network of six off-campus centers.
- John Fitzsimmons, the longest serving community college system president in the country, completed his leadership of the MCCS in 2015. During his 25-year tenure, the colleges transitioned from technical to community colleges; enrollment nearly tripled, to over 18,000 students; tuition costs became the lowest in New England, and the Foundation for Maine’s Community Colleges was established and raised over $23 million within its first five years.
- MCCS and UMS signed a comprehensive transfer agreement in June 2015 that is designed to reduce college costs and speed time to degree completion.
In addition, the colleges have become vital community centers, where regional activities, educational workshops, cultural events, and economic development efforts take place.
- 1946—Maine Vocational Institute established, moves to Fort Preble in South Portland in 1952.
- 1962—State Department of Education recommends expansion of two existing vocational institutes and addition of two new ones.
- 1963—Northeastern Maine Vocational Institute (now NMCC) in Presque Isle opens.
- 1964—Androscoggin State Vocational Institute (now CMCC) in Lewiston opens, moves to Auburn in 1966.
- 1966—Eastern Maine VTI in Bangor opens. Other institutes renamed to SMVTI, CMVTI, NMVTI.
- 1969—Washington County VTI opens.
- 1969—Legislature establishes Kennebec Valley VTI in Waterville, moves to Fairfield in 1983.
- 1981—$7 million bond for buildings and repairs.
- 1984—$12.9 million bond for capital improvements and renovations.
- 1985—$2.2 million bond equipment and trade purchases.
- 1986—Legislature separates VTIs from state Department of Education; establishes MVTIS as independent system with own Board of Trustees .
- 1988—System Office begins assuming System-wide functions previously provided by state.
- 1989—Legislature renames Maine Vocational Technical Institute System to Maine Technical College System. $20 million bond for capital improvements.
- 1994—York County Technical College opens in 1995. $5 million bond for capital equipment.
- 1994—Maine Quality Centers Program
- 1998—Community College Partnership of Maine created with the University of Maine System.
- 1999—$26.4 million bond for capital improvements. Technical Colleges add Associate in Arts credential.
- 2001—Employees and Board of Trustees endorse Statement of Core Services and Attributes of Maine’s Technical Colleges, A Comprehensive Two-year College System.
- 2003—Maine’s technical colleges become community colleges and the Maine Community College System is established.
- 2003—Early College for ME is established to provide a bridge to college for high school students with academic potential but no plans for college.
- 2006—The Governor’s Community College Advisory Council examines future workforce and educational demands and the capacity of the community colleges to meet those demands. View the report.
- 2007—$15.5 million bond for facilities improvement.
- 2007—MCCS Rural Initiative is launched to address educational and economic development needs of rural Maine.
- 2009—The Foundation for Maine’s Community Colleges is created to provide financial support to the colleges.
- 2011—The Foundation announces success of first statewide capital campaign, raising $11.3 million.
- 2011—MCCS acquires property for major expansions of Southern Maine Community College (Midcoast Campus in Brunswick) and Kennebec Valley Community College (Harold Alfond Campus in Hinckley, made possible by a $10.85 million gift from the Harold Alfond Foundation).
- 2013—$15.5 million bond issue to prepare more Maine people for high wage/high demand jobs
- 2014—Central Maine Community College celebrated its 50th anniversary.
- 2015—John Fitzsimmons, the longest serving community college system president in the country, completed his leadership of the MCCS. During his 25-year tenure, the colleges transitioned from technical to community colleges; enrollment nearly tripled, to over 18,000 students; tuition costs became the lowest in New England, and the Foundation for Maine’s Community Colleges was established and raised over $23 million within its first five years.
- 2015 – MCCS and UMS signed a comprehensive transfer agreement designed to reduce college costs and speed time to degree completion.