University of Maine System to accelerate workforce and small business development with federal funding secured by Sens. Collins and King

One-time Congressionally Directed Spending awards will be invested statewide in public university infrastructure and programming that directly address critical workforce shortages in the state and advance economic and community growth

ORONO, Maine — Funding in the federal budget package passed this weekend will enable the University of Maine System (UMS) to further strengthen and grow the state’s workforce in high-demand fields, including education, nursing and cybersecurity. 

The second round of six bills to fund the federal government in Fiscal Year 2024 (FY24) includes $15.7 million in one-time Congressionally Directed Spending (CDS) secured for UMS at the request of Sen. Susan Collins, vice chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Sen. Angus King.

Amid a statewide nursing shortage projected to grow to 2,700 nurses by next year, nearly half of this one-time funding will go toward UMS nursing workforce development and increase local health care access and quality.

“In the state with the oldest population and with the profession facing a wave of retirements, our public universities’ expanded capacity to produce more nurses is essential to the health and well-being of the people of Maine,” said Chancellor Dannel Malloy. “We are grateful to the entire Maine Congressional Delegation — and especially Senator Collins as Vice Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee — for their continued commitment to University of Maine System nursing education and research, as reflected by the significant funding in this and recent federal budgets for state-of-the-art simulation facilities and innovative programming. These and other investments secured for our System through this round of Congressionally Directed Spending will help us better prepare the skilled workforce our state’s health care organizations, schools and small businesses need to serve their communities and grow our economy.”

The University of Maine at Augusta (UMA) will receive $4.5 million to renovate and relocate their nursing program to the former Purdue University Global campus in the Augusta Marketplace, which will allow them to expand enrollment and their output of health care professionals to care for Mainers. Over the past five years, enrollment in UMA nursing has increased from 50 students to 320, and when fully built out, the new Capital Center will support the enrollment of nearly 400 nursing students.

Funding ($3.057 million) will also launch northern New England’s first nursing Ph.D. program at the University of Maine (UMaine). Currently, fewer than 1% of nurses in the state have a doctoral degree, but national accreditation standards require faculty to have a doctoral degree to teach master’s nursing courses and a master’s degree to teach bachelor’s level nursing, limiting enrollment at all postsecondary nursing education programs and Maine’s production of new nurses. 

UMS has been working to address this. The University of Southern Maine (USM) offers a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) degree program, which is a practice doctorate, and the University of Maine at Fort Kent (UMFK) will launch a DNP program this year. A nursing Ph.D. is considered a research doctorate and is more common among nursing faculty. In its initial years, the UMaine program would focus on recruitment of those who already have bachelor’s and master’s nursing degrees or a Ph.D. in another field, provide some free tuition for enrolling in nursing programs at UMaine, UMA, UMFK and USM, and expand health-related research that matters to Maine. 

Another award ($3.3 million) led by the flagship UMaine, which in 2022 became the New England Hub of the Rural Schools Collaborative, will provide ongoing professional development, mentorship and other evidence-based support to more than 200 rural educators. The goal of the statewide project, in which other UMS teacher preparation programs will also participate, is to improve resilience and retention of rural educators and school leaders, and PK-12 student outcomes. 

More cybersecurity professionals will also be on the way to Maine employers thanks to $463,000 in FY24 CDS funding to build out and equip USM’s cybersecurity operations center classroom on its Gorham campus. When upgraded, the facility will provide high-impact, hands-on training to university students and practicing professionals to learn how to mitigate the risks of future cyber-attacks on Maine citizens, companies and communities. According to federal data, employer demand for cybersecurity workers is growing at more than twice the overall jobs’ rate. 

UMS is the largest producer of Maine’s skilled workforce, having awarded 106,362 degrees since 2003, led by those for nursing/healthcare professions, business, engineering and education. All CDS projects are aligned with Maine’s 10-year economic strategy and the System’s new strategic plan, directly advancing its goals related to responsiveness to changing workforce needs, growing doctoral education and serving as an engine for innovation for Maine businesses. 

Consistent with that, Sens. Collins and King also secured CDS for UMS through the Small Business Administration. 

One $2.4 million award led by UMaine will foster integrated UMS entrepreneurial and workforce development, small business incubation and industry collaboration through the establishment of a research and innovation corridor headquartered at the Maine Center in downtown Portland. This initiative will promote greater access in southern Maine to world-class UMaine resources and foster business and industry partnerships with all UMS institutions. The Maine Center is a signature initiative of the Harold Alfond Foundation-funded UMS TRANSFORMS to provide interdisciplinary graduate education and professional programming across business, law, policy, engineering and computing.

Meanwhile, a $2 million award will enable the UMaine Aquaculture Research Institute’s creation of a pilot-scale kelp nursery and aquaculture demonstration farm at the Darling Marine Center in Walpole. There, university researchers and industry partners will develop methods of seeding and harvesting to increase the yield and value of Maine kelp. They will also work together to pioneer innovative practices to build resiliency in kelp and shellfish aquaculture amid changing climates and markets. 

With applications including as food, fuel and fertilizer, kelp is considered a sector of the aquaculture industry with strong potential for growth, and support for its continued development was a priority of the Maine Aquaculture Roadmap 2022-2032

“The University of Maine, as the state’s flagship and public research university, is committed to partnering across the University of Maine System to transform Maine’s innovation workforce and build economic opportunities for Maine,” said UMS Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation and UMaine President Joan Ferrini-Mundy. “The successful leadership of Senator Collins, along with that of Senator King and Representatives Pingree and Golden, in securing these investments in critical areas for Maine will have lasting impact on our state. We are very grateful and eager to advance all of these initiatives.”

Earlier this month, UMS and Sen. Collins announced that the first round of FY24 federal budget bills included $40.8 million for UMS infrastructure and innovation, largely through UMaine, the state’s only institution to achieve R1 Carnegie Classification, putting it among the top 146 high-performing research universities in the nation.

Contact: Samantha Warren,