How the UMaine System’s largest gift ever came together

When Dannel Malloy accepted the job last year as chancellor of the University of Maine System, one of the first people he met with was Greg Powell, head of Maine’s largest philanthropic institution, the Harold Alfond Foundation.

About five months later, the university system started discussing a grant proposal with the foundation that led to it this week becoming the recipient of the largest donation ever to a public educational institution in New England.

The Harold Alfond Foundation on Tuesday announced it would award $500 million to eight Maine educational institutions and workforce development organizations. The University of Maine System received the biggest chunk of funding: $240 million allocated over the next 12 years, making that portion alone the largest single donation the Harold Alfond Foundation has ever given.

The donations fall within the general priority areas for the foundation — education, health care and community and youth development — whose giving has included $500 college investment grants to every Maine newborn and helped hospitals and colleges across the state add to and substantially upgrade their facilities.

But the gift to Maine’s public university system specifically was largely a reaction to the system’s push for a unified accreditation for its seven universities — an idea aimed at encouraging more collaboration among the universities that’s been proposed for decades, but that Malloy pushed aggressively in his first year on the job.

Much of the $240 million from the Alfond Foundation will pay for initiatives meant to affect multiple campuses in the university system — $75 million for a multi-university college of engineering that grows engineering offerings in Portland in part by drawing on engineering expertise at the University of Maine in Orono, and $55 million to develop a Maine Graduate and Professional Center in Portland that will lean into academic programs offered at both UMaine and the University of Southern Maine.

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