The University of Maine System said Wednesday it will receive $240 million from the state’s largest philanthropy, making the public university system the recipient of the largest investment ever made in a public educational institution in New England.
The $240 million gift is the largest one out of $500 million the Harold Alfond Foundation pledged on Tuesday to a variety of higher education and research institutions around the state as part of a long-term initiative to create future jobs and improve Maine people’s skills.
The investment over 12 years will allow the University of Maine System to establish a $75 million College of Engineering, Computing and Information Science that serves multiple campuses in the university system. It will pay for new undergraduate engineering programs at the University of Southern Maine, improvements to the engineering education infrastructure at the University of Maine in Orono and graduate engineering programs offered by USM in Portland.
Some $20 million will pay for a handful of initiatives aimed at improving student retention at Maine’s universities, where a sizable portion of students leave before they graduate. A $55 million portion of the gift will help along the development of the new Maine Graduate and Professional Center in Portland, including a new building on the USM campus that will house law and business programs. That initiative began in recent years with the help of money from the Harold Alfond Foundation.
And the largest portion of the gift, $90 million, will go toward athletic facilities at UMaine.
“Maine is receiving a transformative, unprecedented investment in its people and its future from the Harold Alfond Foundation,” University of Maine System Chancellor Dannel Malloy said. “And it comes at a time when we need optimism and an affirmation that we work best when we work together.”
The university system plans to host information sessions and open forums to find people within the campus community interested in helping the system implement these plans.
The $240 million gift will also be the single largest gift in the history of the Harold Alfond Foundation, which became Maine’s largest philanthropy after the 2007 death of Maine shoe magnate Harold Alfond, who had sold Dexter Shoe Co. to Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway in 1993 in exchange for Berkshire stock.
Foundation Chair Greg Powell said the university system “is perfectly poised to set new standards for how public higher education serves students and at the same time partners with employers in the pursuit of economic development and opportunity.”
The other institutions receiving the $500 million in grant money are The Roux Institute at Northeastern University, the University of New England, Thomas College, FocusMaine, Colby College, Waterville Creates! and The Jackson Laboratory.
FocusMaine, a private sector-led initiative aimed at job growth announced Wednesday that it received $5.18 million to expand job creating efforts in life sciences, aquaculture, and agriculture.
Correction: An earlier version of this report misstated the amount of the award given to FocusMaine.