When the Maine Vocational Institute was established in 1946 in Augusta, it offered four programs and enrolled 80 veterans who were newly returned from World War II. It was a time of rapid technological change and the state needed more skilled workers to help grow its economy.

Sound familiar?

Seventy-two years later, that first institute has grown into Maine’s seven community colleges. The importance of these schools to the people of Maine and the economy of our state cannot be overstated as we confront ever greater technological change and a serious and growing need for skilled workers.

On Nov. 6, we will have an opportunity to vote “yes” on Question 5 to make needed investments in all seven colleges.

Right now it might seem like Republicans and Democrats have a hard time agreeing on anything, but as two former governors from different political parties, we are in full agreement that investing in our community colleges and the thousands of students they serve is critical to Maine’s future and its ability to build a stronger economy.

Across Maine, there are good-paying jobs that are going unfilled because there are simply not enough people with the right skills to fill them. A “yes” vote on Question 5 will enable the community colleges to expand access to programs that are critical to addressing labor shortages in such key Maine industries as health care and precision manufacturing.

Question 5 will also enable the community colleges to upgrade facilities and instructional technologies, providing students with increased access to modern facilities and equipment that meet their needs and the needs of Maine employers. And it will enable energy upgrades and efficiencies that lead to long-term savings.

There are other fundamental reasons to invest in our community colleges. As their name makes clear, Maine’s community colleges are built to provide convenient, affordable access to the skills and education that Maine people need to obtain good jobs and build a promising future in their local community. Located within 25 miles of 92 percent of Maine’s population, Maine’s seven community colleges and their six off-campus centers make it possible for students of all ages to get a high-quality, low-cost education close to home.

An investment today in our community colleges is an investment in our collective future. Last year, the community colleges served nearly 30,000 people through their degree programs, customized training and noncredit offerings. They offered those students more than 100 areas of study, 75 percent of which are the only ones of their kind in the state. The graduates of those programs are highly trained nurses, firefighters, precision machinists, IT professionals, accountants, plumbers, chefs and more. They form the very bedrock of the Maine economy.

Maine’s community colleges are a bargain for students and for taxpayers. The seven campuses know how to stretch every dollar, and aren’t afraid to sharpen their pencils to keep costs down.

With the lowest tuition and fees in New England, our community colleges have been able to open the door to higher education to many in Maine who would have been shut out of a college degree in previous generations. They provide their students – nearly 94 percent of them from Maine – an affordable path to good-paying jobs and careers.

In the process, they are training a new generation of Maine workers for jobs that require high levels of proficiency and technical skill. More than 90 percent of the state’s community college graduates stay in Maine to work and contribute to the state’s economy.

Question 5 will help close the skills gap, strengthen our businesses and give Mainers the chance to build their lives here at home.

We urge you to vote “yes” on Question 5. Make an investment in Maine’s future. Invest in our community colleges. They pay us back every day.