In a Feb. 14 article, councilor Mel Hovey is paraphrased as stating in a meeting between the City Council of Presque Isle and Gov. LePage on Feb. 11: “Colleges need to do more to improve quality and efficiency … some campuses hold classes for less than half the year and sit idle the rest of the time” and thus “don’t produce much revenue.”
As chairman of arts and sciences at the University of Maine at Presque Isle, I am responsible for scheduling classes in fall, spring, and (two) summer sessions. These sessions run, respectively, from September to December, January to May, May to June, and July through August. In other words, the University of Maine at Presque Isle runs courses all 12 months of the year and virtually 365 days per annum in the case of online courses.
Furthermore, summer 2010 enrollments, as reported by local media, were up over 80 percent from the previous summer, itself a near 100 percent enrollment increase from 2008 and producing more than a half-million dollars in tuition revenue last summer alone.
This spring, arts and sciences is offering more than 100 courses in 16 separate disciplines (from biology and environmental studies to fine arts and literature to political science and psychology), thereby filling nearly 3,000 seats, and serving students not just from Aroostook County, but increasingly the entire state and beyond. Online course offerings, nearly 50 percent of which are populated by students from outside of Aroostook County, grew by almost 100 percent from the previous spring. In fact, overall enrollments in arts and sciences grew by 5 percent from last year. The expansion of our programs and enrollments will continue this summer.
In addition, the arts and sciences faculty has procured hundreds of thousands of dollars in externally funded grants in the past biennium alone, most directed toward community-based partnerships, in which faculty serve as crucial consultants and co-workers with students and community members. In fact, the Geographic Information System, or GIS, program at UMPI has maintained a partnership with the city of Presque Isle since 2007 (as well as ones with Caribou and Fort Fairfield), saving the community tens of thousands of dollars while also providing invaluable training to our students.
In turn, many grants and other external funding contribute directly to the university’s ability to provide economic opportunities to local businesses and contractors, including a full-scale renovation of the campus’s primary classroom-laboratory building. Individual faculty also have received grants to initiate or continue research in fields as diverse as climate change, local agricultural history, ornithology, paleontology and neuroscience (with specific attention to expanding our knowledge of the understanding of traumatic head injury), including associations with the University of Maine, the University of Maine at Augusta, the University of Nebraska and Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory.
Furthermore, the faculty participate in a number of fall, spring and summer community-oriented programs at the university, including Upward Bound, SAGE, and Project Explore, which bring hundreds of students of all ages to our community year round. Finally, faculty of all disciplines participate in a variety of academic and nonacademic initiatives with both local and international constituencies, including development of partnerships with universities in the People’s Republic of China, Thailand and New Brunswick.
Perhaps no single example of the essential role faculty and students play in the understanding and conservation of our own local history is as powerful as the publication of “Forgotten Times: Presque Isle’s First 150 Years,” by Richard A. Graves III. This was made possible by a collaboration between Dr. Graves and UMPI history majors, providing a unique experience to our students and a priceless remembrance of our community, all for the cost of those students’ tuition and Dr. Graves’ tireless dedication.
These are but a small selection of the teaching, internationally recognized research, and community partnerships undertaken year-round by the faculty of arts and sciences, ones which generate far more than tuition revenue, an efficient use of our facilities, and a quality education. Indeed, they provide vital cultural, economic, and scholarly partnerships, day in and day out, that enhance the quality of life in Aroostook County — and far beyond.
Raymond J. Rice is chairman of arts and sciences and a professor of English at the University of Maine at Presque Isle.