SOUTH PORTLAND — Officials from Southern Maine Community College and the University of Southern Maine hope a new agreement aligning the schools’ hospitality and tourism programs will help build the workforce in Maine’s largest industry.

“This is critical to the tourism industry, which is Maine’s largest economic sector,” SMCC President Ronald Cantor told members of the media Monday morning. “Maine’s employers depend on us to work together, to understand their evolving needs and to respond in ways that produce the well-rounded, educated and highly skilled workforce required to succeed in today’s global economy.”

With the deal, students currently signed up for SMCC’s two-year hospitality management program can transition into USM’s newly launched four-year tourism and hospitality program when they complete their time at the community college.

“With this agreement, our graduates will be able to complete the USM program in (an additional) two years,” Cantor said.

The pact comes after Gov. Paul LePage highlighted what he describes as a skills gap between what Maine employers say they need and what the state’s workers have for training.

There are currently 68 students in SMCC’s hospitality management program, the school’s president said. Those students are given hands-on experience helping operate the community college’s on-campus Peter A. McKernan Hospitality Center, a 1902 former Fort Preble officers’ quarters building now converted into a small seaside hotel, or through other industry partnerships in the region.

University of Southern Maine President Theo Kalikow, who became the school’s new top administrator in July, said USM’s tourism and hospitality program is the first four-year degree of its kind in the state of Maine.

“I’m thrilled that we developed (the program) in record time in response to the tourism industry and at the Legislature’s request,” Kalikow said Monday. “We are very proud today that these two institutions are making it more possible to give more students opportunities to earn an affordable, high-quality education, and support a major industry important to the future of Maine.”

Carolann Ouellette, director of the Maine Office of Tourism, said the SMCC-USM announcement is welcome news to leaders in her industry.

“I know our industry has been hoping that this type of thing would come along, and the timing is perfect,” she said Monday.

The articulation agreement unveiled Monday is one of 50 such deals SMCC has arranged with public and private universities in New England, Cantor said. Earlier this month, the community college announced a collaborative program alongside the University of Maine at Farmington, in which students in SMCC’s early childhood development program could take satellite UMF classes in South Portland to finish off a four-year degree.

That arrangement creates southern Maine’s first four-year early childhood education program in several years, SMCC officials said.

Sidebar Elements

University of Southern Maine President Theo Kalikow, left, and Southern Maine Community College President Ronald Cantor sign an articulation agreement Monday, Sept. 17, which ensures that students taking part in SMCC’s hospitality and tourism program can finish their four-year degree at USM.

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