BANGOR, Maine — The Maine Center for Graduate Professional Studies received an early stamp of approval Sunday when the University of Maine System’s board approved the first detailed plans for the new endeavor.

Trustees unanimously backed an 80-page business plan for the center during a special meeting at University College Center in East Millinocket.

The center, likely to be built somewhere in Portland, will bring the system’s existing graduate programs in law, business and public policy together into one entity. The system says it’s the first such center established by a higher education institution in the country.

“Our next generation of Maine leaders need the best possible education and training for a changing world,” said University of Southern Maine President Glenn Cummings. “The Maine Center moves us closer to meeting that need.”

University officials say the center will help turn Maine’s economy around, drive people toward in-demand industries, and train policymakers and leaders who will lead the state into the future.

The hope is that the center’s revamped programs will help reverse the state’s aging demographics by drawing young people to Maine and keeping them here after they earn their graduate degrees. For example, the center hopes to counter a drastic shortage of lawyers in rural Maine by getting new graduates to work in those parts of the state

“In this time of global connectivity and competition, the professional education provided by our public universities must be irrevocably linked to the firms, businesses and organizations that are creating opportunity across our state and building our economy,” said Sam Collins, chairman of the board of trustees.

Melodie Greene, a Calais resident and University of Maine graduate, told the trustees she was worried that the new center would do little to help struggling economies in rural parts of the state.

“This will have the potential to benefit Portland more than anywhere else,” she argued, questioning why the center wasn’t located in northern Maine or another part of the state in need of an economic kickstart.

The UMaine System has said Portland would be the location for the center because of the mass of business, political and educational resources available there.

UMaine Chancellor James Page said Greene “raises a very serious issue,” and that the system would need to work hard to ensure that its programs and its investments benefited the entire state, not just the area around the graduate school building.

USM professor and faculty senate representative Elizabeth Turesky said the USM Faculty Senate and graduate faculty council both supported the Graduate Center concept in theory, but had some concerns to air.

“The bottom line is that the center will only work if Orono and USM faculty are on board as equals” while shaping the leadership and organization of the new center, she said.

Turesky said she believed there was a “window of opportunity” in this initiative to rebuild trust between the board and faculty members, who have suffered a strained relationship in recent years because of cuts and program eliminations aimed at shoring up severe budget problems.

Other faculty members have more serious concerns about the process.

“The process seemed designed from the beginning to minimize the faculty role in program creation and the curriculum,” Jim McClymer, president of the Associated Faculty of the Universities of Maine, said Monday. “I am not clear if the problem stemmed from a lack of understanding of how high quality universities operate or lack of respect for the faculty.”

He said business faculty at UMaine played little role in shaping the business plan for the center to this point, and that has raised serious concerns among faculty about whether they’ll be involved at all as the process moves forward.

System officials have said faculty representatives would be consulted heavily as the center is organized and leadership laid out.

The initiative will be launched in two stages. First, starting in January 2017, the system will try to raise $15 million in private funding through grants and foundation support to fund the center’s initiatives.

During this stage, which is expected to last two years, the system would work with faculty to organize leadership in the various graduate programs, work on the curriculum, and start to re-envision the master’s of business administration program with a primary location in Portland, offering courses and instruction there as well as remotely from the flagship UMaine campus in Orono.

The second stage of designing and building the center’s new facility, which the UMaine System hopes to build by 2021. In total, the system expects the project to cost a total of $150 million, primarily raised through private fundraising and investment.

The board hasn’t approve the project in full, and will continue to monitor its progress, successes and failures before fully investing in the push.

Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter at @nmccrea213.