At the base of all economic development is education. A trained workforce depends on effective integration between the K-12 public schools, the community colleges, and our region's public and private universities. We need to assure that education is accessible and affordable - and we can't forget that education is more than just job training. We need to support general education, as well as effective workforce development strategies.
We also need to focus on making sure effective pre-k eductional opportunities continue to be strong and affordable, so our youngest citizens can enter school ready to learn. Research shows again and again that failure to invest in this segment of the population will only cost our society more later.
The Maine Humanities Council, where I have worked for more than a decade, has focused on providing resources and training for teachers, pre-k-12, and I am constantly reminded of the critical importance of energized and imaginative educators.
You probably don't need me to point out that education costs have risen in recent years far faster than inflation. This is due to the fact that as personnel costs have risen dramatically (tied closely to the cost of health care) the state's per-student subsidy has declined. According to one Maine college president, 18 years ago the state subsidy accounted for about 70% of the cost of college, and now it is down to under 40%. It seems absurd to me that a college education should cost as much as a house, and because it does, an entire generation of students risks being unable to participate in the economy.
We need to make sure that students can get their degrees on time and on schedule - if it takes you six years to get a degree, you'll pay more and likely have more debt.
And we need to work to preserve and expand funding for scholarships for low-income students entering the public higher education system. We need to find ways to improve completion rates for college -- ¾ of a degree is ultimately far more expensive than a full degree, and too many people fail to complete.