PORTLAND – The University of Maine System must better align academic programs with the needs of the business community and better communicate what the system already does to fortify the state’s economy, the system’s chancellor said Wednesday.

That’s the conclusion of a recent report, “Making Maine Work: The Role of Maine’s Public University System,” from the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and the Maine Development Foundation.

Chancellor Richard Pattenaude, along with chamber President Dana Connors and foundation President Laurie Lachance, delivered the report Wednesday to The Portland Press Herald.

“We’ve come to understand that higher education is economic development,” Pattenaude said. “Our primary job in aligning our programs is to make choices that help the economy and the people of Maine.”

The glossy 28-page report highlights the findings of a study funded by the chamber, conducted by the foundation and informed by survey responses of 1,000 business leaders. Pattenaude requested the study after the chamber and the foundation issued their initial “Making Maine Work” report last summer.

The newer report, released last month, focuses on the role that Maine’s seven universities play in expanding the state’s economy and recommends several steps to increase that role.

The report concludes that the universities must operate as a true system, better communicate the essence and value of the work they do, ensure that tuition is affordable for all Mainers and invest in the system’s infrastructure so it can best serve the state.

Pattenaude said the system is making strides in each area, by reducing annual operating costs by $20 million, increasing tuition by the lowest margin in six years, and expanding online learning opportunities by as much as 14 percent per year.

The system has earmarked $3 million in current and future budgets to support the program changes needed to develop new academic and research programs that better serve the business community, Pattenaude said.

The report recommends that the system:

Strive to enroll and graduate more people, with skills and knowledge that meet the current and future needs of Maine businesses.

Drive innovation and support entrepreneurship through research and development and directly supporting businesses to create jobs.

Serve the public by promoting regional economic and community development and helping Maine businesses compete in global markets.

Lachance noted that the system already works closely with the business community in many ways, including agricultural, forestry and marine science extension services, and various technology and alternative energy research-and-development initiatives.

“The university system is everywhere in our economy,” Lachance said.

The system is targeting the 180,000 Mainers who have started college but not completed associate’s or bachelor’s degrees, thereby diminishing their earning potential and ability to contribute to the economy.

Many Mainers leave higher education during their second year, often because they run out of money, Lachance said.

“We need to get them to complete the degree,” she said.

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

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