Dozens of educational institutions, businesses and nonprofit organizations have signed on to MaineSpark, an initiative that aims to boost the number of Mainers who obtain postsecondary education.
The effort is based around goals established by the Lumina Foundation, an independent, private foundation based in Indianapolis that is “committed to making opportunities for learning beyond high school available to all.”
The primary goal is to increase the proportion of adults with college degrees, professional licenses, certifications and other “credentials of value” to meet the growing need for highly skilled workers. Lumina hopes that by 2025, at least 60 percent of adult Americans will have earned some form of postsecondary degree, professional license or certification.
Currently, only 43 percent of adults in Maine have such credentials, said Ed Cervone, executive director of workforce development group Educate Maine and one of the organizers of MaineSpark.
“So what we’re looking at is going from 43 to 60,” Cervone said.
To achieve such an ambitious goal, MaineSpark has recruited a wide variety of partner organizations from all over the state. They include academic institutions such as the University of Maine System and Maine Community College System, economic development groups such as Coastal Enterprises Inc. and the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, nonprofit organizations such as United Way of Greater Portland and the Alfond Scholarship Foundation, and businesses such as Bath Iron Works and Cianbro.
Cervone emphasized that MaineSpark isn’t trying to supplant the existing goals and initiatives of its partners. Instead, it is working as a catalyst to bring the various groups together for discussions about how they can help each other be more effective in their workforce development efforts.
“What we said was, ‘We could all work better together if we focused on a goal,’” he said.
Having already chosen its 60 percent goal, MaineSpark will now focus on creating a framework and structure for the partner organizations to work together on achieving it, Cervone said. The group also will set intermediate goals and define metrics to gauge whether the initiative is on track to achieve its overall goal by 2025.
MaineSpark could employ a variety of tactics to promote postsecondary achievement, he said. For example, it could provide Maine educators with information about high-demand jobs and other materials that help encourage students to pursue various educational opportunities after high school. The group also could develop a program that helps to reduce the number of college students who drop out before graduation.
Cervone said MaineSpark intends to use data, research and communications to coordinate between different interests in the state in order to develop and implement the best ideas.
“There’s a lot of good work (being done),” he said. “It’s just not optimum because we don’t have the structures to coordinate everyone under one goal.”