ORONO — Despite Maine’s improved economy, nearly half of the University of Maine’s graduates sprint for the state line once they get their diplomas in hand.
“It’s worrisome to think of some of your best hopes for the future leaving,” said state economist Laurie Lachance. “I would have hoped that some of the [job] growth that we’ve seen would have led more of these folks to stay.”
But Maine just doesn’t have enough of the high-paying jobs that offer career opportunities and challenges many of the graduates want, said Sheila Pechinski, associate dean of UMaine’s College of Business, Public Policy and Health.
A survey completed last week for the Career Center at UMaine showed that 48 percent of the Orono campus graduates between August 1996 and May 1997 took jobs outside of the state.
The results were very similar to those from a survey six years earlier, when the state economy was much weaker.
Of those who headed out of state during the most recent period, roughly half stayed in New England and the rest took jobs outside of the region.
Heather Murphy, who earned a chemical engineering degree in 1996 and received job offers in and outside of Maine, opted to take a job a half-continent away, where her starting salary was $42,000.
“The best opportunities for me were to move out to Chicago and see what else was out there,” said Murphy, who is 24. “I’m extremely proud to be from Maine, but I’m really enjoying pursuing the opportunities I’m pursuing now.”
Lynne Vigue, a research assistant at Yale University Medical School in Connecticut, longs to return to her home state.
The Bangor native and her husband, Charles Vigue, who grew up in Scarborough and is now biology department chairman at New Haven University, check classified ads for Maine jobs periodically. But she said they have all but given up their dream.
“There just aren’t that many colleges in Maine,” Lynne Vigue, who is 51, said.
A positive side to the exodus of graduates is that some may rise to positions in which they could recommend company expansions in Maine. That was the idea behind a picnic Maine Gov. Angus King hosted in Boston Common last summer for Maine alumni working for area companies.
Those UMaine alumni who do return to the state often take a pay cut to do it, said Lachance.