SOUTH PORTLAND — Maine’s community college system is getting an $11.3 million injection from the private sector that’s meant to help fulfill the state’s demand for a more highly skilled work force.

More than 80 businesses and individuals donated to the community colleges’ first fundraising campaign, which will enable the seven schools to increase their annual enrollment from 18,500 to 25,000 students within the next five years, said former Gov. John McKernan, chairman of The Foundation for Maine’s Community Colleges.

He and vice-chairwoman Lisa Gorman, wife of L.L. Bean chairman Leon Gorman, were joined by Gov. Paul LePage and more than 20 Maine business leaders on Monday to announce the result of the 18-month campaign.

Dozens of administrators and staff members from the community colleges attended the conference at Southern Maine Community College’s Peter A. McKernan Hospitality Center, named for the former governor’s late son.

McKernan said that the colleges had to turn away 4,000 students this fall due to lack of space in their programs. Of the 300 programs offered throughout the system, 84 are full, according to the foundation’s annual report.

A report called “Closing the Gap,” released in September by Southern Maine Community College, found that 4,000 jobs will open up in the state in the next several years that residents won’t be able to fill because they don’t have the training.

“If we’re going to fill the jobs of the next several years, we need to prioritize,” LePage told the crowd Monday. Higher education, he said, has to be a priority.

The campaign’s leaders said the money raised will be used for additional programming, building improvements, new equipment and financial aid.

Last year, about $2 million in private donations were made to the system. The state is funding about a third of the colleges’ $160 million budget this year. Other funding sources include tuition and federal grants.

By investing in the community colleges, business leaders said Monday they believe there will be direct benefits to their companies.

Popular health care programs, including those for aspiring nurses and radiology technicians, could train future staffers at Maine Medical Center, which donated more than $100,000.

“Our dollars will be going to good use,” said Richard Petersen, president and chief executive officer of the Portland hospital.

Hannaford Bros. earmarked its donation of more than $500,000 for the expansion of culinary arts and heavy equipment programs. Graduates could become meat department managers at one of Hannaford’s 56 Maine stores or workers at its two warehouses in South Portland and Winthrop, said Beth Newlands Campbell, president of the Scarborough-based grocery store chain.

But beyond training laborers for Hannaford to employ, Newlands Campbell said, having people working higher paying jobs will strengthen the state’s economy – something every business will benefit from.

For John Fitzsimmons, president of the Maine Community College System, it’s also about the people being educated and employed. He thanked the donors Monday for creating opportunities for them.

“You have now given hope to thousands of Maine students that their dream of a college degree and a prosperous future can be realized,” Fitzsimmons said.

Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at: 791-6364 or at:

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