Under the watchful eye of a technician from the Cummins Diesel company, a student in the MMA Small Vessel Operations program works on the engine from the Schooner Bowdoin during a 2016 overhaul. FILE PHOTO

Maine Maritime Academy near top of U.S. college “best value” list



William J. Brennan. FILE PHOTO

CASTINE — Looking for a college where the quiet contemplation of Emily Dickenson’s poetry is a primary focus? Maine Maritime Academy probably isn’t for you.

Looking for a school that a recent independent study ranked near the very top of the list of colleges that provide the best return on a student’s investment? MMA may be just the place.

What a college education is really worth in terms of economic return is not the only question prospective students, and their parents, have but it is surely a matter of interest and concern for anyone facing the daunting cost of college.

Using newly released federal data in an effort to calculate return on investment for thousands of colleges across the country, researchers from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce tried to answer that question. Last Thursday, they released the results of their study, searchable and sortable online, ranking some 4,500 schools.

In some respects, the study came up with a list of the usual suspects. In the top 10 in terms of long-term economic return were Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University in California — all three private universities. Only two public schools made the top 10, both maritime academies.

In sixth place, just behind MIT and Stanford and ahead of Harvard, was Maine Maritime Academy. The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, N.Y., held down 10th place.

The three top institutions were schools of pharmacy.

On Monday, MMA President William J. Brennan said he was not surprised by the school’s performance. He was surprised, though, that the study was done by an academic institution.

“I’m not surprised at how well we did,” Brennan said, since the academy has garnered similar reviews in studies by Money Magazine and the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank.

According to Brennan, MMA offers a “narrowly focused” career education with a heavy concentration in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) courses.

“The report validated our mission,” Brennan said. “It’s very edifying.”

According to Brennan, the annual cost for an in-state student pursuing a Coast Guard license as a deck or engineering officer at MMA is $39,162, almost $160,000 over the four-year program. About 88 percent of students receive some form of student aid.

Despite the costly price tag, Brennan said, when prospective applicants and their families check out MMA “I offer the bill-payer a value proposition. We’ll help your child succeed here so they’ll be successful in their field.”

As the Georgetown study discovered, the odds of success are good.

MMA regularly places at least 90 percent of graduates in their chosen career fields within 90 days, Brennan said, and many of those jobs pay well.

According to Brennan the default rate on student loans to MMA graduates is just 2 percent compared with the national average of more than 10 percent. What’s more, MMA graduates typically pay off their student loans in just six years.

Brennan attributes MMA’s success, in large part, to being an “evolving institution” that has changed from its original narrow focus of training merchant marine officers in a quasi-military environment. Now, about 40 percent of the student body is “non-regimental,” pursuing studies outside the traditional licensing curriculum.

While credit for MMA’s success goes to a strong faculty, administration and staff, Brennan said, “part of the reason we’re successful is the kids are driven to succeed. They’re here with a mission. They’re not here by accident.”

Complete information on the Georgtown University Study may be found in the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce analysis of data from the Education Department College Scorecard, 2019 at cew.georgetown.edu/cew-reports/collegeroi.

Stephen Rappaport

Stephen Rappaport

Waterfront Editor at The Ellsworth American
Stephen Rappaport has lived in Maine for nearly 30 years. A lifelong sailor, he spends as much time as possible messing about in boats. [email protected]

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