A few weeks after the 2014 election, Jim Page, the Chancellor of the University of Maine System, asked me if I would take on the job of creating the Maine Center for Graduate Professional Studies – a revolutionary initiative that will bring together under one roof the Maine Law School, an MBA program created by merging the two existing programs in Orono and Portland, and the Muskie School of Public Service.
I jumped at the chance. After all, I had first put this idea forward in a January 2009 speech on the reform of public higher education in Maine – the speech that triggered two campaigns for governor.
I remain as certain as I was then that rebuilding public education in Maine is the only route back to the kind of opportunity and upward mobility that once characterized life in Maine, but doesn’t anymore. We are beset by a slow-‐growing economy, we face a demographic winter, and we are losing too many of our young people to schools and opportunities they find elsewhere, while the few who stay are often ill prepared for the new economy.
The conversation in Maine about “higher education” has evolved too far into one about “job training.” Job training is important, and we need to devote considerable resources to making sure that students who won’t get a four-‐year degree are employable. Yet, we’ve been paying far too little attention to post-‐ 2 graduate education. In the meantime, the number of young Maine people pursuing JD, MBA and MPA degrees has been shrinking. Is this important to you – to each of you, to all of us?
You bet it is. The projected value of lifetime earnings in Maine for a graduate with an associate degree is $666,000; for someone with a graduate degree it’s $1,309,000. That high earner will pay 50% more in state and local taxes than the holder of an associate degree, while the state and local costs of providing public services to him or her will be only about one-‐fifth of what it will cost for the graduate with a two-‐year degree.
My point isn’t that the quality of our community colleges is unimportant or that we should let up on our efforts to push more Mainers past high school and into two and four-‐year degree programs.
But we also need to do a much better job in our graduate education efforts. Our graduate programs in
business, law and public service are not delivering either the numbers or the kinds of new professionals that Maine needs, where Maine needs them, thus rendering our economy less able to grow and leaving too many Mainers looking for opportunity that isn’t here. We have a much lower percentage of graduate degree holders in our workforce than the other New England states, and considerably fewer students enrolled in graduate programs. U.S. News ranks Maine’s only law school as 110th in the country, and neither the University of Maine nor the University of Southern Maine MBA program is even ranked at all by US News or by Business Week.
The impact of these failings on Maine’s economy is much broader and deeper than the lower earnings forecasts for our graduates. In fact, the impacts reach every one of us, no matter how little or how much education we have.
In 2013 there were over 378 job openings in Maine requiring a graduate business degree, an MBA, but in 2012 the University of Maine System’s two MBA programs each produced only 33 graduates, and the total number of MBA graduates from all of Maine’s MBA programs numbered only 244 graduates – 134 fewer than needed to fill the jobs.
It’s no wonder that we’ve seen big employers pick up stakes and leave Maine for states where they can find the leadership talent they need to grow.
We’re not doing any better in the lawyer production business. In vast areas of our state, Maine is under- ‐lawyered, and far too many of our lawyers are as old as I am.
In all of Piscataquis County, there are only 6 active lawyers in private practice. In seven counties – Aroostook, Franklin, Oxford, Piscataquis, Somerset, Waldo and Washington – with a total population of 298,000, there are 206 lawyers, of whom about half are 60 or older.
Maine Supreme Court Justice Donald Alexander has observed that newer lawyers are reluctant to engage in smaller practices because they aren’t comfortable with the business aspects of it, and he and many others believe that a dose of business education as part of the JD education not only could better equip lawyers to assist their clients, but could also better equip them to help themselves.
We need to produce younger and broadly educated lawyers, we need younger and broadly educated MBA’s and we need younger and broadly educated professional managers for Maine’s towns and cities, where retirements are taking an extraordinary toll.
We need more than numbers. We need graduates of professional programs in Maine who will have been educated according to the West Point credo of leadership training – knowing, yes, but also doing and being. We want them prepared by the experiential quality, the integrated breadth and the imaginative content of their education to excel in an economy that is being redefined before our eyes.
Fortune Magazine described in March how “fewer workers function as low-‐ maintenance machines -‐- ‐ turning a wrench in a factory, for example – [while] more become thinkers and creators. Intangible assets, mostly derived from human capital, have rocketed from 17% of the S & P 500 market value in 1975 to 84% in 2015. Even a manufacturer like Stryker gets 70% of its value from intangibles; it makes replacement knees, hips, and other joints loaded with intellectual capital.
“For decades,” Fortune continued, “ever since Peter Drucker coined the term in the late 1950s, the MVPs were the so-‐called ‘knowledge workers.’ But that term is no longer an apt description of the most prized personnel. Knowledge is becoming commoditized. Information, simple or complex, is instantly available online. Knowledge skills that must be learned—corporate finance, trigonometry, 5 electrical engineering, coding—can be learned by anyone worldwide through online courses, many of them free. [Increasing numbers of those ‘knowledge skills’] can even be performed by a clever algorithm. Knowledge remains hugely important, but it’s gradually becoming less of a competitive advantage. More and more major employers are recognizing that they need workers who are good at team building, collaboration, and cultural sensitivity.”
The Maine Center for Graduate Professional Studies is a demand-‐driven response to both student needs and Maine’s economic challenges. It will be a consortium initially comprised of the Maine Law School, the System’s single, merged MBA program, and likely the Muskie School of Public Service. It will be located in one building in Portland, along with researchers, a conference center and an incubator/accelerator facility that will marry innovation to the classrooms.
It will be new from the ground up. The Maine Center doesn’t start with any of the characteristics it needs to succeed – not with the scale, flexibility, physical space, capital or integration with external legal, business and public service communities.
It’s my job to come up with a plan to make all that happen, and, in a hugely hopeful sign, the Alfond Foundation already has invested $2 million in this planning effort.
We have three immediate objectives: to develop with the deans and the faculties a credible blueprint for the Center; to demonstrate the value of a more collaborative approach with innovative courses and programs; and to engage advice and support from the business, legal and public service communities in 6 Maine – those communities that have the biggest stake in the Maine Center’s success.
The central idea behind the Center is this: Our law school, our MBA program and our school of public service will do a far better job in meeting Maine’s needs and students’ needs if the schools work together in a true consortium, practicing the very collaboration and relationship-‐building that is increasingly valued in the economy.
Maine’s graduate professional programs will be better and more productive
• if we gain scale, distinction and a common focus;
• if we break down the walls and silos in our graduate programs that already are vanishing from the real world of work;
• if we practice in graduate studies the character of a collaborative culture and workforce; and,
• if we maintain an unrelenting focus on Maine’s competitive advantages, economic opportunities and employment needs.
Chancellor Page and I believe that our graduate schools can get both bigger and better in the Maine Center, can expand their markets by becoming more competitive and productive, and can reverse the flow of young people leaving Maine.
We are confident that the Center will be profoundly important for Maine. It will strengthen and transform graduate and professional education in our state. It will broaden professional opportunities for Maine citizens, attract entrepreneurs and businesses to Maine, and help drive statewide economic growth.
At the outset of my talk this morning I called the Maine Center for Graduate Professional Studies a “revolutionary initiative.” It is just that. Maine will be the first university in the country to have integrated its law, MBA and public policy programs under one roof. We will leapfrog the rest of New England and America, and the rewards will be immeasurable.
The Maine Center is an opportunity to gain an edge for Maine by being collaborative and innovative…just like Maine. With your support, we can be – will be – not just good, but great!