Whether it’s a post-pandemic byproduct or the need for higher wages, Maine businesses and universities are facing the same human resource challenge: the lack of workers and students.

According to an article in the Portland Press Herland, since 2019 student enrollment in the UMaine system has dropped more than 5% and is down 13.4% in Maine’s community colleges.

We are all also very aware of the labor shortage, as you can’t walk two feet down the street without seeing a “Hiring Now” sign or a shop closing hours early due to a lack of workers.

Maine businesses and higher education are in the same boat. An article in Central Maine raises an interesting question: Can they work together to solve these problems?

The article proposes that colleges and universities adopt new educational models that bring in more students but also allow them the opportunity to support themselves at the same time as they are getting their education by joining forces with local businesses.

Students often face the tough decision between pursuing their higher education or immediately joining the workforce. With the price of school and the long hours, it’s difficult to balance both school and a career and it comes down to them having to choose one over the other.

Rather than having to choose between furthering your education or supporting yourself financially, school and work should combine in a manageable way. Perhaps it would take the form of a “class” like a work-study or internship but it would need to be a fair balance.

This also provides a learning opportunity that you can’t gain inside of a classroom through a textbook. By working with others, networking, dealing with real-world jobs and problems, the student is better prepared for the future. It would also help them learn about themselves and their interests, what they enjoy doing and what they don't.

I don't know what the full solution looks like but the Central Maine article does bring up an interesting concept. Would this be better for students? Would this help our local businesses? It could be worth a shot.

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