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Maine Technical College System

News Release

Thursday, February 15, 2001, 11 am
CONTACT: Alice Kirkpatrick
Tel: (207) 767-0116, ext. 3

AUGUSTA, Maine—Maine Technical College System President John Fitzsimmons called on Maine lawmakers today to use their leadership to help bring college within reach of Maine's working adults. Fitzsimmons delivered his annual address on the state of the Maine Technical College System this morning to a joint session of the Legislature in the State House in Augusta.

Saying the effects of global competition and technological advances "are now being played out in job after job all across Maine," Fitzsimmons urged legislators to help those who are "living the repercussions of an economy in transition"- referring to thousands of Mainers who have been laid off from traditional manufacturing jobs, and others who lack the credentials needed for the new economy.

"We are in unprecedented times. Never has the call to action been clearer. We must invest in our most precious resource, our people, to prepare them...and Maine...for a new era," Fitzsimmons said.

"Maine will not move past 37th in the nation in income, unless and until we fully commit to raising the skills and education levels of our workforce," Fitzsimmons added. "The bar has been raised. And the consequences are that there are fewer and fewer paths to good-paying jobs for those with less education and limited skills," he said.

Citing a study commissioned by the Maine Technical College System last month, Fitzsimmons said that twenty percent of Mainers who do not have a college credential-roughly 90,000 adults-have a very strong interest in earning a degree.

The study also showed that a vast majority of people view better job opportunities and higher wages as the chief benefit of a college degree (81%), while a high number (40%) also cited self-esteem and personal accomplishment as a benefit.

The study consisted of a survey of 400 Maine adults between the ages of 18 and 55 who lack a college degree but have at least some interest in earning one. The research looked at the barriers to higher education and factors that would make it easier to go to college.

Unsurprisingly, cost and the ability to pay for college were cited as the primary barriers to attending college. Factors that would help adults go to college include financial assistance and low cost (about 90%), as well as convenient location (81%), small classes (75%), academic support while in college (57%), and a part-time schedule (56%). In addition, there is high interest (44%) in taking courses online as a way to work college around tight schedules.

Fitzsimmons said the study reaffirms that the technical college system's direction is on target, including freezing tuition and increasing scholarships; adding off-campus centers and online courses; keeping classes small; and offering academic support for those who have been out of college awhile. But, he said, "the sheer numbers of those interested in college underscores the magnitude of the challenge awaiting Maine."

"There are literally tens of thousands of Mainers who want to go to college and see it as their avenue to a better job, but lack the financial resources," Fitzsimmons said.

Fitzsimmons cited three key policy issues that need to be addressed if Maine is to improve access to college, including: addressing Maine's relatively high college costs and limited scholarship aid; expanding access to programs tied to the economy; and deciding on the role of a community college system in Maine.

Fitzsimmons encouraged lawmakers to continue the work begun by the last legislature to expand enrollment at the technical colleges from 5,700 students a year to 10,000 students a year. He said employers in virtually all industries are depending on technical college graduates, and "more and more Maine people are turning to our colleges to attain the skills they need for the new economy."