AUGUSTA AP) – As Gov. John Baldacci signed a proclamation calling attention to the planned transformation of the state’s seven technical colleges into community colleges, the president of the Maine Technical College System made a bold prediction.

“We’re about to create the finest community college system in the nation,” John Fitzsimmons said Monday at a ceremony highlighting changes in the state’s educational offerings.

The $5.6 billion budget that Baldacci signed Thursday includes $1 million in start-up money for the changeover.

Maine is one of only five states that does not have a community college system.

The state’s technical colleges last fall had a combined enrollment of 7,518 students seeking a degree. Over time, that figure will rise to 11,000, Fitzsimmons predicted.

President Barbara Woodlee of Kennebec Valley Technical College in Fairfield said the new system will enable students to take liberal arts courses to earn an associate’s degree until they decide on a career path.

“This is a degree designed to provide you with a foundation to transfer,” she said. Woodlee said her campus probably will need to add support staff and possibly professors if enrollments increase as expected.

“There are many, many people in this economy that are preparing for new careers,” Woodlee said.

The names of the schools will be formally changed by the Board of Trustees at a summer meeting, she said.

Senate President Beverly Daggett, D-Augusta, and House Speaker Patrick Colwell, D-Gardiner, co-sponsored legislation to make the change official.

“This community college system will help to give us the seamless system from early childhood to postsecondary,” Daggett said. “It’s absolutely essential for the state of Maine to move into the new knowledge-based economy.”

AP-ES-04-01-03 0217EST



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