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Maine Community College System

News Release
Community Colleges Launch New Era—And Have Some Fun—At Statewide Celebrations

Tuesday, July 1, 2003
CONTACT: Alice Kirkpatrick
Tel: (207) 767-0116, ext. 3

One group started with a sunrise gathering on Mars Hill Mountain to be "the first community college in Maine". Another — determined to out-do the Mars Hill group and fueled by a pre-dawn batch of blueberry muffins, headed out from The Boat School in Eastport aboard the "Otto Miller" to unfurl their college banner off West Quoddy Light.

The groups from Northern Maine Community College and Washington County Community College both were busy claiming victory this morning as their colleagues around the state opted for a more traditional approach with daytime ceremonies, tours and entertainment to celebrate their official change from Technical Colleges to Community Colleges.

"This is an historic day for our higher education system, and for Maine, as we launch Maine's Community College System and bring affordable, accessible college opportunities to Maine people," said Governor John Baldacci. The Governor spoke at a morning ribbon-cutting ceremony at Southern Maine Community College in South Portland, and a sign unveiling in the afternoon at Eastern Maine Community College in Bangor.

The bill to change the colleges' names and mission was put forward by Governor Baldacci and passed by the Legislature in March. The Maine Community College System Board of Trustees set July 1 as the formal transition date.

MCCS President John Fitzsimmons — appearing with the Governor at SMCC and EMCC — outlined the vision and goals of the community college system. Fitzsimmons has served as president of the seven-college system since 1990 — shortly after the former-Vocational Technical Institutes were changed to Technical Colleges in 1989. He has led the effort to expand the colleges' offerings and transform them into community colleges.

"At the heart of the community college mission is to provide broad access to higher education, in order to provide mobility and opportunity for all citizens," said Fitzsimmons. "Our promise to Maine is to build a community college system that is second to none," he said.

Fitzsimmons said the System had several goals — including increasing college enrollment from 7,500 to 11,000 by 2010. The colleges will target high school students who are academically capable but aren't now going on to college, as well as dislocated workers and other adults who can benefit from the flexibility, low cost and support that community colleges offer.

In the biennial budget passed by the Legislature in March, $1 million was earmarked to support the transition. The funds will be used to strengthen student support services, including advising and developmental courses.

The community colleges will expand both career and liberal studies offerings — and increase the number of students who transfer from the two-year colleges to Maine's universities and other four-year colleges. "As we assume our new role, we will continue on our mission to build a world class workforce for Maine," said Fitzsimmons. "Career programs will always be a major focus and strength of our colleges; they are our past, our present and our future," he said.

Fitzsimmons said keeping college affordable would continue to be a top goal of the system, which has frozen tuition at $68 per credit hour — roughly $2,040 a year — for four straight years. Thanks to a gift announced today from the Osher Foundation, and a State match, the system will continue the tuition freeze through the next two years. [See separate release.]

Fitzsimmons said the colleges — which have earned a reputation for their high graduate placement rate, at 96 percent — would continue to stress quality in its offerings, as measured by student outcomes, employer satisfaction, accreditation standards, and other measures.

Maine's seven Community Colleges enroll approximately 7,500 degree students each fall, and over 12,000 students annually in credit and noncredit courses and workshops. They offer over 230 one and two-year programs in health care, liberal studies, business, computers, automotive, machine tool, education, culinary arts and many other fields. The colleges are located in Wells, South Portland, Auburn, Fairfield, Bangor, Calais and Presque Isle. They operate eight off-campus centers.

The colleges began as Vocational Technical Institutes, with the first established in Augusta in 1946. The Maine VTI — which was later moved to South Portland and renamed Southern Maine Vocational Technical Institute — served 80 returning World War II veterans in radio, automotive, electrical and machine tool programs.

Five VTI's were established in the 1960's. In 1989, their names were changed to Technical College to reflect their role as postsecondary institutions. In 1994, York County Technical College was established.

To see the Maine Community College System's vision and goals, go to Maine Community College System: A New Era.