Editorial: A gift for Maine’s future

With the fall semester well under way, college students are settling into a new normal amid a pandemic with long-term implications for their lives and careers. What job market will await them when they graduate? How heavy a burden will the debt they carry become?  

Among these and so many other uncertainties, there is good news. 

Last week, the Alfond Foundation announced a massive gift to eight Maine colleges, universities and organizations in support of science and technology. The grants, totaling $500 million, are an investment in the state’s economic future. The funding could help Maine students land well-paid, in-demand jobs and combat a statewide shortage of skilled workers. 

“We are doubling down at this time because of our belief that Maine has a great future,” Greg Powell, Alfond’s board chairman, told The Portland Press Herald. “We are going to come out of this pandemic bigger, better, stronger and more prosperous than ever, especially if we upgrade the skills of our workforce to meet the needs of our modern economy.” 

The $240 million grant to the University of Maine System is the largest of its kind to a public institute of higher education in New England. University officials say the organization will leverage the funding to secure an additional $170 million in matching funds over the next 10 years from private, state and federal sources, resulting in $410 million in total investment.  

The funding will be targeted at four main areas: $55 million for the Maine Graduate and Professional Center; $75 million for a multi-university Maine College of Engineering, Computing and Information Science; $20 million for student success and retention; and $90 million for athletic facilities. 

Bar Harbor-based Jackson Laboratory received an $11.8 million grant for its Maine Cancer Genomics InitiativeSince 2016, the lab-led alliance of Maine oncology providers has provided patients with access to genomic testing and education to help clinicians interpret test results. Over the next five years, the grant will advance how doctors and patients can act upon individual results, by providing greater access to targeted therapies. 

The half-billion-dollar gift is the latest installment in the stunning legacy of a Massachusetts transplant who never went to college himself. The late Harold Alfond, founder of Dexter Shoe, moved to Maine to make shoes after graduating from high school. He started Dexter Shoe in 1956 and sold the company for Berkshire Hathaway stock in 1993. He died in 2007, but his mark on Maine will last for generations. 

Already, all babies born as Maine residents are eligible for a $500 college grant through the Alfond Foundation. Now, the Alfond legacy will also include the engineers and entrepreneurs who will propel Maine forward as well as personalized treatments that could revolutionize cancer care.  

The gift is cause for celebration and hope. Science and technology are fields guiding us through the present crisis and advances will see us through the next. 

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