BIDDEFORD — A substantial gift to the University of New England from the Harold Alfond Foundation will support relocation of the College of Osteopathic Medicine to the Portland campus.
The move will open space to bring new programs to the Biddeford campus and expand existing ones, UNE officials say.
The Harold Alfond Foundation announced that the University of New England is one of eight Maine educational institutions to benefit from a $500 million investment made to confront the state’s long-term economic challenges. Details about UNE’s share of the investment will be outlined with other details at a news conference set for 10 a.m. Tuesday, which may be viewed live at: une.edu/live.
The expansion and development of undergraduate and graduate programs on the Biddeford campus like degree programs in marine sciences and aquaculture, along with programs in business, entrepreneurship, criminal justice, and sports media communication, will meet student demand and workforce needs, said UNE President James Herbert in a prepared statement.
“By being able to relocate the College of Osteopathic Medicine to the Portland campus, we will be able to expand our undergraduate and graduate programming in several market-aligned fields of study as well as grow many of our current programs by taking advantage of the availability of additional labs, classrooms, and other spaces vacated by the medical school,” said Herbert.
Biddeford Mayor Alan Casavant said Herbert recently told him of the plan.
“I was surprised, but his explanation is really logical from their perspective,” Casavant said. “All of their health science programs are in Portland, and having all on one campus makes it easier and more efficient. The current medical building needs an upgrade, as it is old by today’s standards, and there is no more room for much on the Biddeford campus, as available land is mostly wetlands and ledge. They are bursting at the seams, with professors, in some cases, sharing offices, with two others.”
“President Herbert loves Biddeford, and he was clear, that the intention is not to abandon the campus here,” Casavant continued. “(The plan) allows them to add programs, such as a business program, and they will gain undergrad students, offsetting any loss of medical students. The neuroscience students will stay here, as the labs are all here.”
The Alfond Foundation has said it aims to combat a shrinking workforce and usher in new opportunities for the state and its people by supporting the acceleration of education, training, and job opportunities.
Herbert said the new College of Osteopathic Medicine will have specially-designed learning spaces and advanced technology, enhancing the quality of education, and that the increased capacity will allow the university to grow the size of the medical school.
“Our health professions students will capitalize on opportunities for cross-professional learning, will enhance their team-based competencies, and will benefit from learning spaces in the new facility designed for simulation, standardized patients, and digital health and telemedicine, all of which will complement UNE’s existing assets,” Herbert said.
He said physical integration of the medical school with the university’s other health professions programs will strengthen UNE’s collaboration with its clinical partners throughout the state, and will provide greater opportunities for all UNE’s health professions students to engage in team-based rotations.
Herbert said the gift from the Alfond Foundation is timely, considering that the COVID-19 pandemic has made clearer than ever the critical role health care workers play in our lives, reinforcing the importance of training the next generation of professionals to UNE’s mission.
“This generous gift will allow UNE not only to increase the number of doctors and other health care professionals we train but also to better serve the state and region by training students to work across disciplines in integrated teams, providing improved outcomes for their patients,” he said.
He said the grant also addresses the economic implications of COVID-19, which have exacerbated some of Maine’s long-standing challenges to economic prosperity.
“The gift will allow us to grow undergraduate and graduate programs on the Biddeford Campus that are linked to key workforce needs,” he said. “Through this investment, the Harold Alfond Foundation has demonstrated its continued passionate commitment to the welfare of Mainers. We are excited to begin work on this project, which will be transformative for both the university and the state.”
Sen. Susan Collins called the $500 million gift to the eight educational institutions transformational.
“I applaud the Alfond Foundation for this exciting investment in Maine’s institutions of higher education, our young people, and our state’s future,” she said in a statement.
Casavant said he and others are sad to see the medical school go, and noted there is a certain prestige to having Maine’s only medical school in the city, but he understands the rationale.
“It makes sense for them,” said Casavant. “Plus, they will be reinvesting here with new programs, a renovated building, and more students. UNE remains a great partner for the city of Biddeford.”