ORONO, Maine — The chancellor of the University of Maine System on Wednesday spoke out in support of a systematic approach to higher education as he addressed about 50 area business leaders at a Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce Early Bird Breakfast.
In a speech titled “The Business Case for a University of Maine System,” Richard Pattenaude talked about the financial and educational future of the system and outlined efforts to make it more efficient and create an improved online degree program.
Pattenaude said the systematic approach has kept the seven campuses nimble by allowing them to make changes apart from the board of trustees.
Since he became president of the University of Southern Maine in 1991, Pattenaude said he has seen state appropriations drop from 60 percent of the system’s operating budget to 40 percent. This has had a dual effect, increasing the system’s reliance on tuition for funding and necessitating more efficient campuses.
Saying “debt is a way you invest in infrastructure,” Pattenaude advocated passage of Question 2 on the upcoming June 8 ballot, which would release $24.5 million to the state’s public colleges for energy efficiency upgrades. He projected the upgrades would save an equal amount within five years.
Aside from energy efficiency, Pattenaude touched on the roughly 300 positions cut from the university system this past year. While the loss of so many jobs is never favorable, the structure of the system allowed for the cuts to be made from several locations, lessening the impact on any single campus.
It was recently decided to consolidate the eight colleges at the University of Southern Maine into five, while the Orono campus faces major restructuring that eliminates the Department of Public Administration and suspends several majors. It is hoped that these changes will save scarce funds for more popular programs, which in turn will boost student enrollment and tuition revenue.
Pattenaude also described the creation of a new online education program modeled after the system in use at the University of Massachusetts. Citing the need for degree-focused continuing education, he said the new system would approve only those programs that offer all necessary classes for a baccalaureate online. While the program would officially fall under the jurisdiction of the system’s University College, all degrees would be issued by the sponsoring institution.
Describing himself as a “big advocate” of continuing education, Pattenaude said he hopes the new online program will provide working adults or individuals in isolated areas the opportunity to earn a college degree.
“I believe deeply, deeply in the power of education touching people’s lives,” Pattenaude said.