New Partnership Offers Free Master's Degree at Northeastern University's Portland Campus

NBCUniversal Media, LLC

There are five open spots to earn a free master’s degree from Northeastern University right now, and requirements to apply are fairly wide open.

Roughly two weeks ago, the school’s Roux Institute, a tech-focused campus in Portland, and Tilson Technology Management, a technology infrastructure company headquartered in the city, posted applications for what is being advertised as “Tilson Roux Partnership Positions.”

Candidates must apply at both NU and Tilson, but if accepted, they will have their degree fully funded and will earn $30 per hour while working part-time at Tilson, up to $45,000 per year.

“We have about 100 applicants so far but I also have an inbox of LinkedIn, Facebook and e-mail questions saying, is this real?” said Adria Horn, the executive vice president of workforce at Tilson Friday.

The program is very much real and funded through some of a $100 million Harold Alfond Foundation grant that matched the $100 million gift the Roux family donated to create the Roux Institute, which now has a physical presence on the WEX Inc. campus in Portland.

“Life demands more of this and we’re excited for people to pursue a career change and academic achievement,” said Chris Mallett, chief administrative officer for the Roux Institute, explaining that the degrees, which would otherwise cost $34,000 to $52,000 in tuition, will be in project management, analytics and computer science. No prior IT experience is required to pursue them.

“The best of us have interdisciplinary skills. For instance, people who can take a liberal arts degree and turn it into a tech career,” Mallett said.

“I think people see themselves in opportunities in ways we can’t necessarily see people,” said Horn, adding that candidates do “need to want to live in Maine, need to be creative, flexible, dynamic are willing to take risks.”

Asked if they were concerned that graduates may pursue this program designed to attract talent to Maine but then chase careers in other places, Horn and Mallett said that is a possibility, but not necessarily a detrimental one for the state.

“It is true of a lot of other hubs that people leave and then come back, they remain connected” said Horn, adding, “we think that building this root foundation, establishing really important relationships, economies of scale for entrepreneurs and for existing employers, there will be more wanting to stay and more people wanting to come than there will be those who are leaving.”

“People stay where they’re valued and the see a future for themselves,” said Mallett, adding that he is “confident” Portland has a chance to begin to grow as a tech environment similar to larger cities like Austin, Texas, and Boston.

“Once the talent’s here, we believe the employers will take advantage and new companies will come to have access to that talent,” said Mallett, explaining that he believes “it is not going to happen in a year or two. It will take a journey.”

As for the COVID-19 pandemic, both Mallett and Horn believe that it has only increased the demand for IT infrastructure and increased the attractiveness of the remote work opportunities offered by technology companies.

“The flexibility of telecommuting is at the forefront in a way it’s never been,” said Mallett.

According to Horn, applications for the program close on May 14.

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