AUGUSTA — The state university system has a plan for easing Maine’s nursing shortage.

Chancellor James H. Page takes part in an announcement Wednesday in Augusta about easing the tuition burden for nursing students in the University of Maine System.

Leaders of the University of Maine System on Wednesday announced a five-year initiative to meet the growing need for nurses across the state, a plan that would expand nursing programs to rural areas, help the neediest students pay for their education and take other steps to swell the ranks of graduating nurses.

With Maine’s overall workforce aging and retiring, the state is projected to have more than 3,000 nursing vacancies by 2025, according to one estimate. At the same time, Maine’s population leads the nation in median age, and its health needs are expected to multiply.

To counter those trends, the university system is trying to double its enrollment in nursing programs, from about 1,900 students now to 3,800 in five years.

Chancellor James Page announced the initiative Wednesday at the Augusta Civic Center during the Maine Wisdom Summit, an annual conference on aging.

“We know there are people out there interested in a nursing career,” Page said. “So it’s increasing our capacity, and increasing our capacity in a way that really works with our health care partners in the industry to make sure we’re giving people the right skills in the right places.”


Just up the road at MaineGeneral Medical Center, multiple working nurses welcomed the news.

“Definitely something like this program that they’re offering would be hugely beneficial, not only to the people I grew up with in Rumford, but all over the state,” said Joshua Rainey, 23, who has been working as a nurse at the Augusta hospital for more than a year.

Rainey used a mix of scholarships and loans to pay for his four-year bachelor’s degree in nursing from St. Joseph’s College in Standish. He has about $45,000 in student loan debt.

But if the assistance that the University of Maine System is rolling out had been available when he was finishing high school, he would have considered attending one its programs instead, he said. He also thinks some of the remote learning programs that the university system is creating might have appealed to either him or his friends, given that they could have stayed in their hometowns while they studied and worked.

Kristina LaChance, 38, is a single mother from Pittston who received an associate degree in nursing from Kennebec Valley Community College in Fairfield. She now works in the medical-surgical unit at MaineGeneral, while also taking online classes for a bachelor’s degree from the University of Maine at Fort Kent.

“There needs to be a program that is affordable and accessible,” LaChance said. “The costs of living, putting a roof over your head, putting gas in the car and repairing the car, buying textbooks, uniforms, a stethoscope, everything. It’s quite a package that you have to have to even begin an education of being a nurse.”


Even without financial stress, a nursing program can be difficult to complete, according to both LaChance and another nurse at MaineGeneral, Ethan Perry, 28, of Litchfield.

“I don’t know how much you know about nursing school, but it is intense,” Perry said. “You’re studying every day, which makes it hard to work, which makes it hard to have any kind of family or a life.”

Perry called the new initiative by the university system “good news.”

“I think everybody can agree we all need more help,” he said. “We need more nurses.”

Under the five-year plan, the system plans to waive the tuition and mandatory fees for the neediest first-degree nursing students who attend its campuses in Augusta, Fort Kent and Presque Isle, either in person or remotely.

The plan also calls for the system to expand its opportunities in more rural communities, including Brunswick, Machias, Ellsworth, Rockland and Rumford.


Those communities have some of the greatest need to replace retiring nurses. In rural coastal counties, nearly half of nurses are over 55, according to a university system news release.

Financial assistance for the neediest students will be provided through various programs, including federal Pell Grants, state grants and scholarship programs at the individual campuses.

“We’re quite confident we can control those education costs significantly,” Page said Wednesday. “As a state, we cannot afford to have qualified students who are not going through and achieving this outcome because of a short-term financial challenge. We need to work with them to overcome that.”

As part of the initiative, the system is urging voters to approve Question 4 on the statewide ballot this November, a $49 million bond issue that would be matched by public and private funds to support facility improvements at the state universities. About $12 million of that amount would directly support the expansion of facilities for nursing education, Page said.

Charles Eichacker can be contacted at 621-5642 or at:

Twitter: ceichacker

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: