Ruth Morrison and Mark Murphy work on a hybrid car battery at Southern Maine Community College in South Portland on Wednesday Dec. 15, 2021. Morrison, a professor at the school, and Murphy, a master certified auto technician, are both taking part in a new program teaching established professionals how to diagnose and repair hybrid and electric car problems. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

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We began the construction of our house just as the pandemic started gaining momentum. Two things became apparent very quickly — the rise in the cost of materials, and the challenge of lining up subcontractors. Tradespeople were flat out busy and in many places remain so. The need for vocational skills training has never been greater, yet we as a society continue to push the message that a four-year liberal arts education should be society’s default pathway for the nation’s youth.

I believe that Gov. Janet Mills’ advocacy for strengthening our community college system can be part of the solution. Community colleges do several things very well: They typically offer a range of learning and skill areas that are better matched to the needs of the future workforce, they offer further academic training that readies recent high school graduates for more challenging college studies at a point they are perhaps more intellectually and socially ready, they offer those graduates the time to think more about career direction while meeting other real-life needs in their own communities and they manage to do it without saddling students with huge debt. By doing all these things, they acknowledge the merit of all trades and career paths.

Mills’ proposal to offer free in-state tuition for an estimated 8,000 students at the state’s seven community colleges will relieve a burden that hampers the aspirations of many young people who are trying to make it in Maine.

Craig Butler