February 28, 2003

Dr. John Fitzsimmons,
President, Maine Community College System Addresses
Joint Legislative Session

Calling a college credential "almost a standard prerequisite for good-paying jobs," Maine Technical College System President John Fitzsimmons urged lawmakers to support Governor John Baldacci's legislation to broaden the mission of the technical colleges and create a Maine Community College System.
In his address to a joint session of the Maine Legislature in the State House, Fitzsimmons praised the Governor "for making the education of our citizens a top priority through the creation of an accessible, affordable community college system."

The Governor's budget includes $1 million to complete the technical colleges' transition. "We are ready to assume the role as Maine's Community College System, and with your support we will be ready this fall to accept the first class of community college students," said Fitzsimmons. "Community colleges are "the missing link in engaging more Maine citizens in higher education." At least 45 other states - including all other New England states - have community colleges. Nationally, 42 percent of undergraduates enroll at community colleges, compared to only 15 percent at Maine's technical colleges.

Fitzsimmons reminded lawmakers of prior transformations his system has undergone - most notably from vocational technical institutes to technical colleges, 14 years ago. Like today, the economy was changing and job requirements were increasing. "In times of economic change, our public institutions must be responsive - and if necessary willing to change themselves - in order to rise to new challenges and better serve our state," he said.

Fitzsimmons said the need to move forward with the initiative is even more pressing with the many plant closings and layoffs taking place around the state. In the last two years, over 16,000 Maine workers have lost their jobs due to foreign competition. Community colleges are particularly attractive to adults because of their low cost, extra support, and convenience.

Community colleges will also help Maine increase the number of high school students going on to college, said Fitzsimmons. "In the next five years, unless we take action, 30,000 young adults will begin their journey with limited options." Going to college "is their best hope...and Maine's best hope," he said.

Fitzsimmons said the Governor's $1 million investment in the next biennium would be enough to complete the name change this fall and launch the System's plan, albeit at a slower pace than originally planned. When the revenue picture improves, Fitzsimmons said, "We will need the State's support to fulfill the promise of Maine's new Community College System."

Included in the System's seven-year plan is a request for funding to strengthen counseling and developmental programming for students - which will be aided by the $1 million investment - and a goal to increase enrollment by 4,000 students, to 11,000 annually by the end of the decade.
The plan also calls for a bond issue to update facilities and classroom equipment. Fitzsimmons thanked Senate President Beverly Daggett and Speaker of the House Patrick Colwell for sponsoring a $20 million bond issue this November for the seven colleges. The bond will allow the colleges to maximize current facility space and ensure a high-quality learning environment as more students and new courses are added.

Fitzsimmons said the System is working to attract other revenues and strengthening partnerships to maximize the State's investment. He pointed to new partnerships with the Maine Adult Education Association and University of Maine System, which are designed to strengthen collaboration and help students transition more smoothly into the community colleges and on to Maine's universities.