The Maine Center for Graduate Professional Studies, which will be one of the first benefits of Chancellor Jim Page’s commitment to creating One University from the current seven-university System, should be one of the most productive and exciting reforms in higher education in Maine history, and could make the University of Maine System a leader in graduate and professional education.
The Center is a demand-driven response to student needs and Maine’s economic challenges, and it is, and needs to be, significantly supported by outside, private investment. It will be a consortium initially comprised of the System’s single MBA program, the Maine Law School and the Muskie School of Public Service graduate programs in public health and in policy, planning and management, and it will be located in one building in Portland, along with an incubator/accelerator facility that will marry innovation with the classrooms.
This bold and innovative initiative will strengthen and transform graduate and professional education in Maine. It will broaden professional opportunities for Maine citizens, attract entrepreneurs and businesses to Maine, and help drive statewide economic growth.
I want to begin my talk with three observations that help explain why I think the new Center can be profoundly important for Maine.
• First, the digital revolution has made knowledge increasingly accessible, almost commoditized and less and less of a competitive advantage. As technology takes over more of the labor in our economy, employers increasingly want to employ people who excel at analysis, innovation and collaboration.
• Second, these changes pose immense challenges for graduate schools that are tied to traditional, supply-driven business models and suffer from rising costs and declining enrollments. Our schools need to migrate quickly from a supply-driven model to one that is more demand-driven, more responsive to the changing expectations and demands of students, and more aligned with the needs of those who hopefully will employ their graduates.
• And third, the challenges that our graduate schools face mirror the circumstances throughout our state, where we have been slow to adapt to the economic revolution taking place all around us. Improvement and change in graduate professional education can help retain more of Maine’s educated young people, import others to live, work and innovate in Maine, and ultimately help grow Maine’s economy.
The central idea behind the Maine Center for Graduate Professional Studies is this: Our law school, our MBA program and our school of public service can do a better job of meeting Maine’s needs and students’ needs if the schools work more closely together in a true consortium, practicing the very collaboration and relationship-building that is increasingly valued in the economy.
The graduate schools that will comprise the Maine Center can change and improve, expand their markets, and become more competitive if they work together to achieve five principal goals:
1) sufficient scale and variety to be both academically distinctive and relevant to Maine’s needs;
2) sufficient curricular rigor and flexibility to be attractive to students and other customers, to be responsive to employers’ needs and to preserve accreditation;
3) sufficient physical space to provide proximity of the programs both to each other and to employers and other experiential opportunities (including courts, government agencies, incubators, accelerators, and applied research); and,
4) sufficient capital and incentive structures (for faculty, students and employers) to make the Center financially sound and to encourage cooperation among faculties and schools.
5) sufficient integration with Maine’s legal, business and public service communities to assure that the Center is responsive to the needs of those employers and the Maine economy.
The Maine Center doesn’t start with any of that – not with the scale, flexibility, physical space, capital or integration with those external communities that it needs to succeed. So, my immediate job has three parts: develop a blueprint – a credible plan to achieve those goals; demonstrate the value of a more collaborative approach with some innovative courses and programs; and engage closely with the business, legal and public service communities in Maine that have a significant stake in the Maine Center’s success.
The central challenge in program design for the Center is how to maintain the quality and rigor of accredited programs in business, law and public policy while at the same time (a) expanding the schools’ competitive advantages and reaching broader markets, and (b) doing a better job of meeting Maine’s needs for an analytic, innovative and collaborative workforce.
Here are some of the questions that the Chancellor and I hope the faculties will examine:
• Shouldn’t every law graduate take a basic course in accounting, so he can read a balance sheet and help a small 5 business owner make her best case for a loan, or help a family manage an estate?
• Shouldn’t men and women who are going to be Maine’s town managers learn the basics about contract negotiation and labor law? • How can an MBA graduate help a Maine business grow if he or she doesn’t understand both the constraints and opportunities posed by increasing environmental regulation?
• Could the Center attract more students from more distant places to Maine were the faculties to offer a summer semester where highly qualified young men and women could take courses for credit that introduced them to the curricula of all three faculties, permitting them to make a more informed choice among a wider variety of single, dual and joint degree programs?
• Why should Maine doctors have to pay more than $50,000 for a one-year executive MBA course taught in Brunswick and online by a business school faculty from a Massachusetts university?
• And how can we do an even better job of ensuring that our newly minted lawyers, business leaders and local and state government officials have learned and practiced the kind of collaborative teamwork that will be expected of them in the real world workplaces?
The charge from the Chancellor to the deans and the faculties is to fashion more integrated and flexible curricula, with expanded experiential learning and new degree and certificate offerings; to achieve closer engagement with Maine’s legal, business and entrepreneurial communities; and to better align research and development with Maine’s competitive advantages and economic development needs.
There is no question in my mind that our faculties can meet the Chancellor’s mandate in ways that will make the Center unique and valuable and that will excite the imagination of both prospective students and the Maine business, legal and policy communities. Why? Because they are already responding, building upon their existing strengths and successful initiatives that they already have developed.
The faculties from all four of the current programs are demonstrating the value of flexible, cross-curricular graduate education with new courses that will be offered across all the graduate programs this coming academic year. Faculty from the Law School and from the UMaine and USM MBA programs will offer a course in Negotiations. Faculty from the Law School, the USM MBA program and the Muskie School, assisted by a remarkable cast of guest lecturers, will teach a course on Environmental Law and Policy. And faculty from the Law School and the Muskie School will offer a course on Health Law, Policy and Management.
The Maine Center’s prospects are very good. The merits of the Center idea are self-evident to most people. Few need to be persuaded that we’re on the right track. So far at least, I haven’t encountered anyone who doesn’t agree that Maine’s graduate professional programs will be better if we gain scale, distinction and a common focus; if we break down barriers that still separate disciplines in the academy that are increasingly less separated in the workplace; and if we practice in graduate studies more of the collaboration and relationship-building that is increasingly valued in the economy.
The Center will be about much, much more than knowledge and skills.
• Students will learn and practice the character of a collaborative culture and workforce.
• Building on the strengths of the universities’ existing programs, we will encourage and reinforce curricula and a culture that inspires more experiential learning, collaboration, creativity and entrepreneurial excellence. • We will break down the walls and silos in our graduate programs that already are vanishing from the real world of work.
• We will maintain an unrelenting focus on Maine’s competitive advantages, economic opportunities and employment needs.
As the leading edge of the effort to create One University, the Maine Center for Graduate Professional Studies is an opportunity to boost Maine’s economy and to gain real distinction in graduate professional education – to be not just good, but great.