News Feature

Originally published in Castine Patriot, November 21, 2012
MMA expansion means more than high enrollment
Pres. Brennan sees philanthropy, research as ways to “grow” MMA’s business

MMA President Bill Brennan

MMA President Bill Brennan discussed ways the academy can grow, without adding students to the Castine campus.

Penobscot Bay Press file photo

by Anne Berleant

“What’s the definition of growth?” asked Maine Maritime Academy president Bill Brennan.

While increasing enrollment is one measure, so is expanding programs and enhancing facilities.

“The board [of trustees] has to come to terms with how do we grow—or do we grow?” Brennan said in a recent interview.

Any expansion of property in Castine “isn’t going to happen. We’re maxed out.”

A strategic master plan for the academy, which is still in its “nascent” stage, will help plan for Maine Maritime Academy’s future, Brennan said.

“In my view, a college is a business and a business has to grow,” he said. “My goal is to identify new ways of doing business.”

Increasing philanthropy is one way, and research is another, he said. “We are moving towards research.”

MMA is not going to be a research center…but it doesn’t mean over time we can’t envision some sort of research park,” he said, using Jackson Lab in Bar Harbor as an example of how a research facility can integrate into a community.

Penobscot “could be a place for that,” since MMA already owns property there that it uses for student parking and boat storage.

While tuition is a “significant component” of MMA’s operating revenue, Brennan said there are other ways to generate revenue besides adding students to the Castine campus.

He sees online, distance learning as a real probability and a satellite campus as a possibility, with the academy already “hardwired” in Brunswick from its program at Bath Iron Works and an upcoming American Bureau of Shipping modeling center in Brunswick. ABS has donated $1 million towards the yet-to-be-built ABS Center for Engineering at MMA, the first new classroom building at the college in 30 years.

Whichever way MMA does expand, “it’s not going to translate into higher enrollment on this campus,” Brennan said.

The current enrollment of 964 undergraduates is a jump from the last two years, which saw numbers around 850, but Brennan said that increase was not intentional.

Applications to MMA are surging upward. Attempting to manage growth downward is an unusual position for most colleges, and the high number of applicants can make enrollment into a guessing game of how many accepted students will decide to attend. Count in students who left but, still eligible, decide to return, and the enrollment number for a particular year can suddenly turn high.

“It’s an art,” Brennan said.

After the ABS building, the waterfront?

Part of the strategic planning development is that non-water dependent uses would be “moved off the waterfront and free up space,” said Brennan.

But the immediate fundraising focus is on constructing the new ABS Center for Engineering. The current technology at MMA “is not adequate to meet the needs,” Brennan said.

When the ABS building is completed, some classes held in waterfront buildings will move into the new building.

Any redevelopment of the waterfront will happen “in a way that recognizes it’s a shared space between the academy and the town,” Brennan said.

Two years ago, the academy paid for a design plan of how the waterfront could be redeveloped. That planning effort “has slowed down,” said Brennan, but the “thought and desire” has not changed.

An agreement was reached “through a collaborative process with the town that we will develop in concert,” Brennan said. “Our development shouldn’t happen in isolation.”

But any development of the waterfront can only happen when “attention and resources are ready on both sides.”

Active collaboration between MMA and the town it lives in, in areas that affect both, is part of “overcoming the difficulties of the past,” said Brennan. “Working with neighbors is part of my job.”

Brennan has had Castine neighbors for a long time. He moved to the village in eighth grade, when his father was named commandant of midshipmen at MMA, married a local girl whose own father served as chief medical officer and a board trustee, and returned as a visiting professor from 1999-2002. He is in his third year as president of the college.

“I consider this school as part of my heritage,” Brennan said.