We hear so often about students who leave Maine for greater opportunities, but Massachusetts native Becky Stockbridge McKinnell did just the opposite.

She transferred to the University of Southern Maine from out of state because of USM’s innovative program in art and entrepreneurial studies.

That was a good move.

Becky was named a finalist in USM’s Student Business Plan Competition, earned her degree in 2006, started the Maine-based web design business iBec Creative, and was named one of the nation’s top 25 young entrepreneurs by BusinessWeek.

As Becky says, “It all sort of snowballed, and the snowball started at USM.”

At a time of international financial instability, the value of baccalaureate education is never more compelling. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics finds that college graduates with bachelor’s degrees face significantly less unemployment in the current economic climate.

They also have much higher median earnings, around $51,288, than high school graduates, at $31,304. And these benefits will persist throughout a working life.

Becky Stockbridge is also an example of the value of the liberal arts foundation of a USM degree. Many a parent worries about the job prospects of students majoring in the fine arts.

USM’s art and entrepreneurship program developed out of a widespread concern in higher education that students in the fine arts need preparation for managing their careers after graduation.

Becky received a solid art education at USM, and her coursework prepared her for the business challenges of applying what she learned in the marketplace.

Ask employers what they most value in new hires for positions requiring a bachelor’s degree, and they will tell you that they look for excellent writing, communication and problem-solving skills.

They want a college graduate who understands how to apply the intellectual capital they earned in college to the challenges faced by a company.

A liberal arts education equips a student to learn the ropes in a company quickly and to bring to bear their disciplinary insights on a wide range of situations in the workplace.

Of course, increasing numbers of students want a bachelor’s degree in a professional field.

USM’s programs in accounting, business administration, engineering, nursing, and teacher education provide nationally accredited degrees in fields that are essential to Maine’s economic growth and quality of life.

Our electrical engineering program was established more than 20 years ago to meet the workforce development needs of our semiconductor industry.

Today we have some 550 students in engineering and technology programs that graduate 100 students yearly, most of whom find jobs in Maine’s technology-intensive businesses.

USM’s 545 nursing majors make us the state’s largest nursing program.

This fall, we will begin offering a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree, which is slated to be the required credential for all advanced practice nurses in 2015.

These graduates will be well prepared to apply the rapidly expanding scientific knowledge underlying nursing practice as leaders and managers in the health professions.

Thanks to more than $700,000 in private industry support, the new Risk Management and Insurance program in USM’s School of Business prepares students to work as underwriters, risk analysts, agents, claims adjusters or actuaries in the insurance and financial services industries.

When we launched the program in 2008, Kenneth A. Ross, vice president and treasurer of Clark Associates Insurance in Portland as well as a USM alumnus, said, “We are so gratified by USM’s response to our need. It is truly an example of the kind of responsiveness to community and business needs that we expect from our University system.”

Last May, we graduated the first class of 10 students. Today, there are 60 students enrolled in the program.

USM is Maine’s only public comprehensive university situated in the heart of our state’s economic and business center.

Our mission focuses on preparing our students to succeed in our region’s marketplace.

A new report from the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and the Maine Development Foundation, “Making Maine Work: The Role of Maine’s Public University System,” makes a compelling case for USM’s role as an economic engine.

It shows that a strong economy requires a highly educated workforce that can innovate and adapt to the challenges of a global economy.

Or, as the president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, Dana Connors, puts it, “Higher education and the economy are one and the same.”

We invite our major employers to join our efforts to strategically align our programs with the needs of central and southern Maine’s business and public sectors.

Think about USM’s role in Maine’s — and your business’ — future.

Work with us to build the educated workforce that our state needs for the 21st century.

Selma Botman is president of the University of Southern Maine. She can be contacted at:

[email protected]