Recently, I joined fellow leaders in business and education for an event at Thomas College in Waterville.

We gathered with some of the college’s brightest students to drive home an important point: that greater access to and affordability of postsecondary opportunities are essential to closing the 21st century workforce skills gap.

Why would I care about closing this gap?

One reason is because I care deeply about the future of our state. A new brief from the groups ReadyNation and Mission: Readiness says that by 2020, 66 percent of the jobs in Maine will require some form of postsecondary education. However, only 43 percent of current working-age Mainers have the necessary credentials to fulfill these roles.

This data is troubling for Maine’s future workforce and economy, especially considering STEM (science, technology, engineers and math) careers — like nurses, accountants, computer systems analysts, and software developers, to name a few — are likely to be hit hardest by this skills gap.

I also care about this gap because its presence is another indication of the recruitment crisis the military is facing. Right now, 68 percent of Mainers aged 17 to 24 are ineligible to serve, and one of the primary reasons for their ineligibility is poor academics. This is particularly problematic because, for so long, the military has been a path for upward mobility for many Americans, including first-generation college students. The military has allowed Americans to access benefits like the GI Bill, which makes college, apprenticeships, and job training more accessible. In 2016 alone, over 700,000 veterans across the country used their education benefits.

My hope is that we will continue to make improvements to postsecondary pathways that help students get the support they need before and during college so that they are able to get the accreditation they need to get 21st Century jobs, especially here in Maine. Working together, all segments of Maine’s education continuum, community and business leaders can help Maine achieve our goal that 60 percent of Maine adults have earned a credential of value by 2025.


One of the shining examples of programs that ensure students’ success is the “Engage, Develop, Guide, Empower” (EDGE) program offered at Thomas College.

The EDGE program is designed to help first generation college students acclimate to life at Thomas, succeed academically, learn good habits, and acquire skills that will serve them when they join the workforce.

The program begins with a 10-day three-credit course that takes place before the fall term of the students’ first year. As part of the program, EDGE students receive a book voucher to help alleviate the cost of course textbooks during their entire freshman year.

The program’s support extends into students’ second year of school, as well. EDGE helps students manage their time, set goals, learn the basic parameters of college life, and take on new challenges and leadership roles. One-on-one academic coaching through the Student Success Center helps students to stay on track in classes, maintain GPA and scholarship requirements, take advantage of resources at Thomas, and overcome obstacles to personal and academic success.

What Thomas College is accomplishing with this program is exactly what is necessary for us to close our skills gaps. We have to make sure that we’re helping as many students as possible, particularly non-traditional students who may not come from families that have gone to college in the past. Families like these are often the backbone of the military—and of our country.

Postsecondary education is as important now as it has ever been. I was very pleased to serve as a Trustee of Thomas College when the EDGE program was implemented here. And I would be very happy to see more innovative programs like EDGE, which helps increase access for more students who may not have thought of college as a possibility for their futures, offered in postsecondary institutions all across the state.

Major General Bill Libby lives in Old Orchard Beach and is retired from the U.S. Army. He formerly served as adjutant general of the Maine National Guard.

Comments are not available on this story.