While Maine still lags the region in the number of people with college diplomas, there is some good news this spring.

Southern Maine Community College will graduate more than 1,000 students today, the largest class in the history of the institution. Similar milestones are being reached at other community college campuses, where students are leaving prepared to enter the work force or transfer to a four-year school to continue their educations.

At a time when state revenues are shrinking and most public agencies are pulling back, this growth is remarkable. Higher education attainment is an economic problem for individuals and the state as a whole, so we all benefit from a program such as this that gives people the skills they need to find a good job.

The key to a community college system’s success is keeping the program accessible, which in Maine means keeping the cost down. The community colleges have succeeded in doing that and the record graduating classes are the result.

Despite the same financial pressures that have faced everyone in both the public and private sectors, the community colleges have managed to avoid increases in tuition in eight of the last 14 years.

This year, it cost a full-time student about $3,300 per year year in tuition and fees to study at a Maine community college. And even at that rate, 82 percent of community college students received financial aid, which speaks to the economic strata that this vital program reaches.

Many of last year’s graduates went on to jobs in health care, business, construction and law enforcement; some transferred to the University of Maine System and other four-year campuses.

The success of the system can be attributed to the disciplined management of the administration, which carefully aligns programs to real world employment needs and the perceived value of a community college degree around the state.

As big as this year’s graduating class is, however, future classes could be even bigger. The system still turns away students who are ready and willing to learn from certain programs because of a lack of space.

An education bond issue that would send $3 million to the Maine Community College System has been passed by the Legislature and needs Gov. Paul LePage’s approval before it can go out to the voters next fall.

The success so far of the Maine Community College System evidenced by today’s record graduation shows that this would be an investment worth making.

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