FORT KENT, Maine — Last month, Richard Cost, president of the University of Maine at Fort Kent, handed out his last diploma and tucked his commencement attire away for the final time.
Now, with the end of his presidency less than two weeks away, Cost is preparing for a future outside of a college that he believes has become a stronger, more visible force in the St. John Valley and in the University of Maine System.
Cost, 69, announced his decision last August and will retire officially on June 30.
Cost’s retirement completes eight years of leadership as the ninth president in UMFK’s 131-year history. He came to Fort Kent in August 2002. Before that, he had more than 30 years of experience in higher education administration and was vice president for institutional advancement at Bridgewater State College in Massachusetts.
Despite his love for the campus and the people of the St. John Valley, Cost said he wants to retire to spend more time with friends and family, including his wife, Ellen, three children and six grandchildren. He also wants to travel, play golf and spend each August on Eagle Lake and fishing on the Miramichi River.
“This is a bittersweet time,” Cost acknowledged during an interview Wednesday afternoon. “I love the college and I love the St. John Valley. I am going to miss the people the most, the students and the administration and all of the staff have just been a wonderful part of this job. Everyone there really cares about everyone else.”
Under Cost’s reign, enrollment has jumped significantly and UMFK has been ranked as a Best Northeastern College by the Princeton Review in consecutive years from 2006 to 2010. The campus also was ranked as a Best Baccalaureate College in the North by U.S. News & World Report in 2009.
He also helped establish the Center for Rural Sustainable Development at UMFK and assisted in the revival of the UMFK Foundation and the establishment of a strong annual fundraising drive, drawing an alumni participation rate of 6.4 percent.
Cost also helped spearhead the successful reaccreditation of UMFK by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges in 2004 and professional accreditation of the business, computer applications, e-commerce and rural public safety administration programs by the International Assembly for Collegiate Business Education.
Cost said that he feels that achieving his goal of increasing the visibility of the college has been one of his biggest achievements.
“This college really is a gem in a fantastic community, and I wanted people to know more about it,” he said Wednesday. “I knew we had achieved that goal when we first earned the recognition from the Princeton Review and especially when they kept recognizing us. Enrollment grew and students came forward and told us and other people how much they enjoyed their experience at UMFK. I think that helped us draw more students to campus as well.”
Cost said that he is very optimistic about UMFK’s future, but said there are some challenges ahead for the university.
“I think that the college will always face financial challenges,” he said. “The UMaine system cannot give us all of the money that we need, and at the same time we have to keep tuition low in order to remain viable. I think that keeping the college viable means keeping tuition as low as possible while keeping the quality of the education that we offer here high.”
Cost noted that several years ago, a draft restructuring plan for the UMaine system proposed the merger of the universities at Fort Kent, Presque Isle and Machias into one University of Northern Maine with three campuses and one administration. It was later abandoned, and Cost said that UMFK is moving forward with a unique identity and a unique mission.
“Each university in the system also has its own unique identity and mission, and I think that the key moving forward is that all of the universities must work together,” he said. “We have to learn how to work more collaboratively. There are majors and programs being offered at other colleges in the system that we will never be able to offer at UMFK, but at the same time there are majors and programs that we offer that you can’t get anywhere else. But we can work together for the betterment of every college and every student.”
Wilson G. Hess, former president of Unity College and president emeritus of College of the Marshall Islands, will serve as the new president of UMFK. Hess will begin his new position on July 19.
After leaving Fort Kent, Cost and his wife plan to return to their house in Middleboro, Mass., a small town and former farming community where Cost looks forward to relaxing in the yard under his favorite tree.