FARMINGTON — There are about 180,000 adults currently working in Maine who dropped out of college before getting a degree, according to Laurie Lachance, president of Maine Development Foundation.

Getting this group back in the classroom to finish college could be one of the keys to Maine’s future prosperity, which is threatened by an aging workforce that is unable to meet the dire need for more skilled workers, Lachance said.

For this to happen, however, the University of Maine System has to offer more online courses, night classes and find other ways to make it easier for people to go back to school, she said.

This is one of the many findings of a study of how Maine’s university system affects the economy, according to Lachance, who presented the findings to lawmakers and educators during a forum Friday morning at University of Maine at Farmington.

It is the second report on the Making Maine Work study conducted by the Maine Development Foundation and the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, with businesses donating more than $20,000 for the study, according to Lachance.

The report found everything from Maine’s aging population to its funding for education is reshaping the demands on the university system, with its more than 32,000 students and more than 20,000 direct and indirect employees, according to Lachance.

One of the primary goals set by the study is to increase the number of people graduating from the university system’s seven campuses.

While the high school graduation rate is at 80 percent, the university system has a graduation rate of 48 percent, according to Lachance. She said the report calls for more college transition programs and other K-12 educational programs to prepare students for college-level classes.

Allen Berger, provost at UMF, said he is worried about the lack of money to fund education initiatives.

“Where are the investments going to come from?” he said.

Berger said system-wide investments in infrastructure are needed for “dilapidated buildings,” and low salaries make it tough to attract top professors to Maine’s universities.

“We’re hanging on by the skin of our teeth … it’s absolutely frightening,” Berger said.

State funding for the system should also remain at current levels for the next two years, according to University of Maine System Chancellor Richard Pattenaude, citing figures released in Governor Paul LePage’s two-year budget.

Flat funding for Maine’s university system, while other states are seeing their funding slashed by half, shows a commitment at the state level to higher education, Pattenaude said.

“Flat is the new up,” he said.

The governor’s two-year budget calls for flat funding at $178,530,506, according to Peggy L. Markson, University of Maine spokeswoman. This represents a 2.6 percent decline in support from the fiscal year 2008 appropriation of $183.2 million, she said in an e-mail.

Lachance said the report shows that the university system is helping to drive economic growth by partnering with businesses on regional projects.

The projects range from semiconductors and composite technology to wind turbines and outdoor recreation, according to Lachance, with the programs affiliated with the campuses in Augusta, Farmington, Lewiston, Presque Isle, Fort Kent, Orono and Machias.

This is something that the system needs to promote and market to leverage more partnerships and funding, she said.

The forum at University of Maine at Farmington was part of a statewide tour of system campuses, where Lachance and Maine State Chamber President Dana Connors present the report.

David Robinson — 861-9287

[email protected]

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