July 18, 2017 | last updated July 18, 2017 11:00 am

Harold Alfond Foundation's $7.5M pledge advances The Maine Center initiative

Courtesy / University of Southern Maine, Office of Marketing and Brand Management
Courtesy / University of Southern Maine, Office of Marketing and Brand Management
The University of Maine System announced today it has received a $7.5 million challenge grant from the Harold Alfond Fountation to advance the Maine Center initiative to build a new graduate center for business, law and public policy in Portland. The plan calls on Maine's law school, MBA programs and school of public service to create a consortium of graduate programs under one roof in Portland.

The Maine Center: At a glance

As spelled out in its business plan, the Maine Center will make innovative changes in the University of Maine System's graduate professional education programs, including:

  1. Integrated curricula and collaborative, experiential education. ?

  2. Incentives that drive the development of new skill sets for graduates to be competitive in more markets.

  3. Focused branding, marketing and recruiting that will leverage the center's competitive advantage and attract a larger number and wider range of graduate professional students from within Maine and beyond the state's borders.

  4. Continuing and increased connections with Maine's business, legal and public service communities through externships and apprenticing programs and executive education and employee training programs.

  5. The Maine Center Ventures, a new entity led by an entrepreneurial CEO who will be tasked with expanding partnerships and strengthening the responsiveness of Maine Center programs to Maine's civic, business, and legal communities. Maine Center Ventures will focus on developing opportunities such as externships, executive education, and incubator programs which strengthen Maine's workforce and increase collaboration across disciplines.

  6. Housed within the Maine Center in Portland, the Graduate School of Business will offer onsite courses and be digitally connected to "smart classrooms" at Orono and other University System locations to enable course offerings from Orono to continue to be a key element of a statewide business curriculum.

The Graduate School of Business will be led by a new dean who will report directly to the UMaine provost and guide curricular development with current faculties and new, full-time MBA graduate faculty and in cooperation with law and public policy faculties.

The Harold Alfond Foundation announced a $7.5 million challenge grant to the University of Maine System to support the Maine Center for Graduate Professional Studies, an ambitious multi-phase $150 million plan to create a new graduate center for business, law and public policy in Portland.

The grant, which was announced this morning at the Portland campus of the University of Southern Maine, represents the largest private gift to a multi-campus effort in the University of Maine System's history.

The Harold Alfond Foundation has now awarded a total of $9.25 million to date for the continued development of the Maine Center. Grant payments toward the $7.5 million commitment announced today will be staged as program benchmarks are met, including the challenge of raising an additional $7.5 million from external sources.

As reported by Mainebiz when the initiative was launched last fall, the Maine Center will combine the University of Maine and the University of Southern Maine MBA programs into a single program within the new Graduate School of Business. It will also bring the University of Maine School of Law and the University of Southern Maine Muskie School of Public Service graduate programs and its Cutler Institute for Health and Social Policy together as a unique consortium to maximize cross discipline opportunities for students.

Although today's announcement did not mention the scope of the total investment needed to bring the Maine Center to fruition, the phased capital campaign given preliminary approval by trustees last fall called for a $150 million capital investment that included a new $93.6 million building and a $45 million endowment.

"Mr. Alfond believed that teamwork and partnership were essential elements to achieve transformative change in Maine," Greg Powell, chairman of the Harold Alfond Foundation, said in a news release. "We were inspired by the transformative vision of the Maine Center, and by the tireless efforts of the chancellor, the System Board of Trustees, Eliot Cutler, faculty, administrators and community leaders alike from across the state, to create a model that is truly unique, of the very highest quality, and that best serves the people of Maine."

Grant advances 'One University' initiative

James Page, chancellor of the University of Maine System, said the grant significantly advances the system's "One University Initiative," which aims to streamline its administrative functions and align its resources to best support all Maine families, businesses and communities. The business plan for The Maine Center, which Mainebiz reported on last November, is designed to attract and retain an increased number of students who seek a unique, multi-disciplinary approach to graduate education.

"The Harold Alfond Foundation has shown once again why it is Maine's premier partner in advancing opportunity," Page said. "The foundation has challenged us to continue working as One University to achieve transformational innovation in professional graduate education, create new pathways to programming that can be accessed anywhere in Maine, and deliver unprecedented public higher education responsiveness to Maine employers."

Reaction to today's announcement

Maine Center CEO Eliot Cutler characterized the Alfond Foundation's $7.5 million challenge grant as "a huge step forward for Maine's economic prospects and for the University of Maine System.

"The bringing together of Maine's law school, MBA programs, and school of public service demonstrates the extraordinary partnership of both universities to create a true consortium," Cutler said. "The Maine Center will break down the walls that already are vanishing from the real world of work; will encourage the collaboration and relationship-building that is increasingly valued in the economy; and will better meet Maine and regional employers' needs." ?

University of Maine President Susan J. Hunter agreed, saying: "Cross-disciplinary engagement is the expectation in today's professional world. The Maine Center consortium of programs and the resources pledged by our friends at the Harold Alfond Foundation creates new opportunities for our talented faculty to engage their expertise to strengthen our workforce and economy."

USM President Glenn Cummings praised the faculty and academic leadership teams for their support and willingness to work together in shaping the One University initiative.

"Partnership, responsive programming, and place are among the many institutional characteristics that make USM such a key player in creating opportunity in Maine," he said. "Our team, led by a faculty committed to student success and collaboration with Maine's professional community, is ready to help leverage this generous investment from the Harold Alfond Foundation into advantage for Maine."

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