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Maine Community College System

News Release
Without investments, Community College progress will slow, says Fitzsimmons

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2005
CONTACT: Alice Kirkpatrick
Tel: (207) 767-0116, ext. 3

AUGUSTA, Me.—Maine Community College System President John Fitzsimmons cautioned lawmakers that a "phenomenal" start to Maine's two-year-old Community College System should not mask the investment needed to ensure quality and make meaningful advances in college attainment.

Fitzsimmons delivered his remarks to a joint session of the 122nd Maine Legislature in the House Chamber this morning. The address was the first formal progress report on the Community College System since it was established from the former-Technical Colleges in 2003. (For complete text of Dr. Fitzsimmons' address to the Legislature, click here)

Fitzsimmons said the early results of the system prove that the policy decision to broaden the mission of Maine's two-year public colleges was the right one. "By creating a community college system in Maine, we have truly opened the doors of higher education wider," said Fitzsimmons.

"In just two years, we have added 2,700 more college students—a 36 percent jump—to surpass for the first time in our history 10,000 degree students," said Fitzsimmons. In addition, he said, students entering community college directly from high school are up 41 percent, and the number of students transferring to Maine's universities has risen 21 percent. Career programs are growing as well; enrollment is up 18 percent in career fields, while new options—in health care, tourism and other fields—have been added to address employers' needs.

Recognizing the hard work of community college faculty, staff and administrators, Fitzsimmons said, "This could not have been accomplished if not for the exceptional people who work in our system. With just a two percent increase in state funding over the past two years, our staff pulled off a 36 percent jump in enrollment, and embraced a new, broader mission. I thank them for delivering a phenomenal start," he said.

Fitzsimmons urged lawmakers to find the resources to fund the new system. "While the early progress is impressive, I am concerned that it may lead people to believe the job is done. In fact, this system is in its infancy. We must invest in the personnel and infrastructure necessary to ensure this system achieves its potential for Maine," he said.

"These are the formative years of our new system, and what you do now will shape how well it delivers—for students and for Maine—for years to come," Fitzsimmons said.

With very little new money, the system has added over 4,400 more college students in four years. "If those students were at one college, it would be the third largest college in Maine," said Fitzsimmons.

Saying the Governor's proposed 2.5 percent annual increase in the system's base budget has taken the system "from a crisis to a challenge," Fitzsimmons said if additional funds aren't found, a tuition hike and staff reductions will be necessary. The result, he said, would be minimal enrollment growth at a time when Maine needs more college graduates.

John Fitzsimmons has been President of the system since 1990, arriving soon after the former vocational technical institutes were transformed into technical colleges. Under his leadership, career programs have been expanded, a seventh college has been added in York County, transfer agreements have been strengthened, liberal studies programs were added, and enrollment has nearly tripled. Fitzsimmons initiated and led the call for establishing a true community college system in Maine.

The Maine Community College System is comprised of seven community colleges and eight-off campus centers. Over 20,000 students are served each year in one or two-year programs, credit and noncredit courses, and customized training.