PORTLAND – Don Tuski has been on the job six months, and during that time he’s heard more than once that Maine College of Art is too expensive.

Tuski, the school’s new president, wants to change that perception. MECA recently announced that it will guarantee a scholarship of $12,000 each year for four years to any local high school student who qualifies for admission to the undergraduate program and maintains good academic standing while enrolled.

That brings the effective cost of annual tuition down to $17,000 from $29,000. From there, students can apply for scholarships based on merit and other aid.

“A lot of kids in the Portland area don’t even look at us. They look at the financial piece and bypass us,” said Tuski. “We want to get more students from the local area interested in Maine College of Art.”

What they will find if they look, Tuski says, is a rigorous arts education and ready access to Portland’s creative community. Tuski is bullish on the employability of creative, motivated people in the new economy, and touts the benefits of an arts education for providing the flanks that graduates need to compete in an evolving and complex work force.

Artists are creative thinkers who offer solutions and work-arounds to common problems, Tuski said.

The scholarship program is called PASS, which stands for Portland Area School Scholarship. The program is open to any graduate of local high schools, regardless when they graduated or if they are transferring from another institution.

Schools eligible to participate are Cape Elizabeth, Casco Bay, Catherine McCauley, Cheverus, Deering, Falmouth, Gorham, Greater Portland Christian, Greely, North Yarmouth Academy, Portland Arts & Technology, Portland High, Scarborough, South Portland, Waynflete, Westbrook, Windham and Yarmouth.

Right now, Tuski said 12 students from those schools are enrolled at MECA, through all class levels.

“We need to change those numbers,” he said. “It would be nice to double those numbers. We just need to convince kids to take a look. I’ve been around long enough to know that if you have a good school and good prices, that’s a good thing for kids.”

Tuski created a similar scholarship program at his previous job as president of Olivet College, a small private liberal arts college in Michigan. “That one was not quite the same, not quite this aggressive, this fast. The number of schools involved in this program is a bit aggressive,” he said.

But the strategy makes sense. Greater Portland is a community of connected cities and towns, and it’s difficult to figure out where to draw the line. Tuski and his board opted to be as inclusive as fiscally possible. They will expand the program if the college can afford it.

If MECA meets its goals and enrolls two dozen kids from area schools, that would represent an investment of almost $300,000 in scholarships. That’s big money for a school with an undergraduate enrollment of 318. Of those 318, 127 are new.

Clearly, this program is designed to recruit and retain students.

MECA recently completed its vision to bring all academic and studio facilities under one roof, in downtown Portland in the former Porteous department store. It’s been a long and sometimes slow process, going back 18 years.

With the conversion of the Porteous building fully realized, now is a good time for MECA to actively and aggressively recruit students. 

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

[email protected]