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Elect Politicians Who Value Community Colleges

By Alexander Kennedy

With the election just a couple weeks away, many people will be making their final decision on the candidates running for office this year. Whether you plan to vote Democrat, Republican or third party, it is important to pick candidates who will support our community colleges.

As someone who works and attends classes at SMCC, I want this school to be successful. There are, however, some key reasons why everyone should want our community colleges to be the best they can.

Even if you don’t need a degree to work in your field, most likely there is one that can increase your earning potential. Simply put, people who have some form of postsecondary education earn more money compared to those who don’t.

There is also a nationwide demand for more labor. The economy is doing well and businesses are hiring. New industries are starting to develop here in Maine, creating a demand for highly skilled labor.

Degree and certificate programs from a community college will help fill this demand at an affordable rate. Maine’s seven community colleges offer the lowest tuition in New England. The Portland Press Herald called the community colleges possibly the “best-kept secret” in higher education in Maine.

If you decide to pursue a bachelor’s degree or graduate program, our community colleges make it easy. Students are able to complete up to 35 credits of general-education requirements and transfer that block of credits, for full credit, to any school in the UMaine system. In fact, around 800 students per year transfer from a Maine community college to a UMaine school.

Enrollment has been decreasing at community colleges, and the people we elect this November will have an affect on this. The Maine Community College System’s funding and budget is approved by the state legislature and the governor. When making your decisions at the polls on Nov. 6, remember to choose candidates who will not only support our funding but help us find ways to increase enrollment.

Derek Langhauser, President of the Maine Community College System, believes there are many things our elected officials can do to help our community colleges.

I sat down with President Langhauser to discuss the challenges our colleges face and what solutions we can implement with the help of our state government.

President Langhauser stressed the importance of strong workforce development. We discussed developing more short-term skills programs for nontraditional students that don’t necessarily adhere to the semester model. This would enable working adults to take courses that increase their knowledge and the value of their labor. In Maine, we have 175,000 working adults with college credit but no degree. These skills programs would make it possible for many of them to complete their degrees.

President Langhauser and I also discussed improving the high school to college pipeline. Sixty-two percent of Maine high school students attend college right after graduation. This means 38 percent don’t. Improving career and technical education (CTE) programs at our high schools could lead to more students enrolling in college.

President Langhauser said all of this comes down to one question candidates should be asked: Are you willing to fund it?

He told me community colleges are typically not a partisan issue. Republicans love the return on investment they provide. They offer the lowest tuition around while producing students who are better prepared for the work force and helping them find their careers. Our community colleges fuel Maine businesses and help drive a good economy.

Democrats love community college because they provide a helping hand to our citizens regardless of social, economic or racial background. Community colleges are a government-provided opportunity that is proven to help people succeed.

When you go to vote on Nov. 6, please consider each candidate’s views on our community colleges and what they would do to help us achieve our goals.

President Langhauser hopes that the candidates we elect this year will agree with this statement he made when addressing the Maine state legislature on March 2, 2017:

“Our students come to us with the fewest of privileges. They don’t want a government service, and they don’t want just a job. They want a career, and they want to earn it for themselves.

Increasingly, they choose to come to us because our programs are local, affordable and they lead promptly to a defined career. They know that our colleges offer them the first, best, and — for many — only chance to stay in, and give back to, the communities where they live, the communities that you represent, the communities that define the very character of our state.

That is the meaning of our work: to provide the essential opportunity to better one’s life through the dignity and prosperity of gainful employment. That meaning runs to the bedrock of our economy. It runs to the vitality of our businesses, cities and towns. And it runs to the moral commitment that a thoughtful government makes to its aspiring people.”

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