Voters are facing a pair of higher education bonds in November aimed at helping the state’s public two- and four-year colleges ramp up programs aimed at easing Maine’s workforce shortages – particularly in the health care field – and put a dent in deferred maintenance of aging campus buildings.

Question 4 ask voters whether to approve a $49 million bond for the University of Maine System, and Question 5 asks voters whether to approve a $15 million bond for the Maine Community College System.

Both bonds required the systems to match the amount of the bond in private or public funds. The last time voters approved infrastructure bonds for the two systems was in November 2013, for $15.5 million each.

Both bonds would provide funding for both upgrading infrastructure – such as energy efficiencies or improving information technology capacity – and paying for either expanding or creating academic programs, especially those aimed at the state’s workforce needs.

Maine is the oldest state in the nation, and several major industries are facing acute shortages as more workers retire.

Maine is projected to have more than 3,000 nursing vacancies by 2025, and the current shortfall is already costing medical institutions millions of dollars in overtime and temporary worker pay while making a challenging job even more difficult for medical professionals as they struggle to maintain quality patient care inside organizations where multiple unfilled positions have become the norm.


“There are no silver bullet solutions to Maine’s very serious workforce and demographic challenges,” UMS Chancellor James H. Page said about the need for the bond in the face of workforce shortages. “We do not have the time or resources for luxuries. That is why proposed investments in Question 4 like the $12 million to help double nursing enrollment are student-centered and career-focused.”


If approved, $12 million of the Question 4 University of Maine System bond money would go directly to expanding the nursing programs at several campuses, spokesman Dan Demeritt said.

That includes building a facility for the new nursing program at Presque Isle – currently housed in temporary buildings – and buying simulation machines for students to work on at the University of Southern Maine campus.

In September, the University of Maine System announced a five-year initiative to tackle the nursing shortage, with initiatives to expand nursing programs to rural areas, help the neediest students pay for their education and take other steps to swell the ranks of graduating nurses.

The bond money, spread out among the seven campuses, would assist in those efforts, Demeritt said.


There is a similar crunch for engineers, with projections of Maine needing more than 2,500 engineers by 2026 – twice as many as the number of engineering graduates from the UMaine System. In response, the University of Maine is expanding its engineering program, adding 10 new faculty members in the last two years and fundraising for a new engineering building.

USM, which would get $26 million of the Question 4 bond money, would use some of it to create a new engineering lab, retrofit computer labs and pay for a new career center that would include an “employment hub” where employers are paired with students for internships, jobs or research help. USM plans to double its engineering enrollment from 250 students to 500 students.

“Maine businesses expect and need the University of Maine System to lead the state’s workforce development efforts. Our public universities have embraced this challenge and are working more closely than ever with businesses and each other to provide solutions,” said Ed Cervone, director of Educate Maine, a business-led workforce development effort.

Educate Maine and the Maine State Chamber of Commerce have endorsed Question 4.

USM President Glenn Cummings has described the potential bond money as “transformational” for the campus. In addition to expanding USM’s  existing mechanical and electrical engineering programs, it would support the addition of new programs in the Portland region, including computer engineering, industrial engineering, and engineering science.



At the community colleges, the bond money will also be split between upgrading infrastructure and expanding programs, spokeswoman Helen Pelletier said.

At Kennebec Valley Community College, for example, the existing industrial trade center is no longer adequate for the welding, precision mechanics, HVAC and line worker tech programs it already houses.

“They are running that building 24-7 to meet the need, and they don’t have the space to expand to serve the students,” Pelletier said. The bond money would be used to move the utility line worker tech program to a new building and free up space to expand the other industrial trade programs.

At Northern Maine Community College in Presque Isle, some of the money would be used to expand the diesel hydraulics program laboratory.

Infrastructure demands range from expanding the colleges’ wireless networks in classrooms, dorms and labs to converting heating systems at Eastern Maine Community College to natural gas.

The University of Maine System’s aging facilities are a significant issue. At this point, half of the system’s space is over 50 years old, and the price tag on deferred maintenance is about $1 billion, Demeritt said. Currently, UMS budgets about $18 million annually for capital facilities work.


The bond money that will be put toward upgrading facilities is expected to result in lower repair and operating expenses at both systems, by reducing energy costs. The USM budget is $552 million.

In the Maine Community College System, deferred maintenance across the seven campuses is $60 million, Pelletier said. The system’s annual budget is $170 million.

The two institutions are spending some money campaigning for the bonds. Both UMS and MCCS have long-standing political action committees that pay for mailers, ads, lawns signs and other materials backing the bond measures.

This year, the university’s PAC, the Maine Economic Growth Coalition, has spent $140,000 in television ads, $2,000 in campaign signs and $6,000 in polling. The PAC raised more than $100,000 from the foundations associated with each campus, and individual and industry donations over $3,000 from banks, construction companies, architects  and building engineers.

MCCS’s PAC, Citizens for Higher Education, raised $38,000 mostly from student activity funds at the Central Maine, Eastern Maine and York County campuses, and spent $5,000 on media consulting and $3,000 on lawn signs.

Maine voters face a pair of higher education bonds in November aimed at helping the state’s public two- and four-year colleges, including Central Maine Community College in Auburn, above, boost programs that would ease the state’s workforce shortages. (Sun Journal file photo)

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