UMFK relishing citations as a top small public university in region

Posted Sept. 17, 2011, at 3:10 p.m.

FORT KENT — Officials at the University of Maine at Fort Kent are celebrating their own personal “three-peat” after learning they had secured their third major accolade in a month.

College officials announced late on Thursday that UMFK had again been named among the Best Regional Colleges in the north in the 2012 issue of U.S. News & World Report.

This year’s rankings put UMFK among the top 50 of all colleges in the North region, climbing 11 spots in the overall rankings, and moving up three slots among the best regional public colleges.

The latest honor came on the heels of the news last month that UMFK was cited for the seventh consecutive year as a Best Northeastern College by The Princeton Review.

The university was one of 220 outstanding colleges and universities that the publication recommends to college applicants in its 2012 print and online editions. The distinction is made after staffers at the publication go through hundreds of institutions in each region of the country and primarily select for their list facilities that feature excellent academic programs. They also take into account institutional data they collect directly from the schools, the opinions of staff, and student responses to surveys about their campus experiences.

On top of that, UMFK was selected three weeks ago as a College of Distinction, a label bestowed on a unique group of colleges and universities that are nationally recognized by education professionals as excellent schools. All selected schools demonstrate four distinctions: they engage students; provide great teaching; exist in vibrant communities; and demonstrate successful student outcomes.

UMFK was one of only 200 colleges and universities nationwide to receive that qualification.

Wilson G. Hess, president of UMFK, said on Friday that news of the third major accolade put the college in major celebration mode. Hess said the college has never lost focus of its goal to provide access to an affordable, quality college experience. He believes that past and present students see the hard work and change that is ongoing at the college, and that it has also attracted the attention of publications such as U.S. News & World Report.

“UMFK is justly becoming recognized as a small public university of regional excellence,” Hess said Friday. “I think that the recognition that the college has gotten over the past years has encouraged more students to take a look at UMFK.”

Hess said that educators and other UMFK staff have worked hard to improve the college from year to year, adding additional academic majors and instituting new programs. The president said that while it is too early to say if more students are choosing UMFK because of what they have learned in the wake of all of its accolades, the college is seeing a difference in its student body.

Nationwide, SAT scores of the incoming class of college students are declining. At UMFK, however, the SAT scores of enrolling first-year students are on the rise.

Since 2010, students’ critical reading and writing scores at all schools, nationwide, have experienced a three-point decline. The reading and writing scores at public schools was more pronounced, declining by six points. During the same time period, first-time students entering UMFK exhibited a 3 percent increase in SAT scores for critical reading and writing.

In 2010, UMFK’s entering class of first-year students had a composite reading-writing score of 886. The composite score for the incoming class this year is 914, a 3.1 percent increase.

“That is something that is great to see,” said Hess. “It is a testament to the work ethic of those students, and it speaks for the success that they will have in college.”

Hess credited UMFK students, faculty and staff for their part in bringing the awards to UMFK. The community, he added, also has leveled unwavering support for the institution.

The Fort Kent college is not the only one in Maine to be recognized in this year’s U.S. News report. The University of Maine at Farmington and Maine Maritime Academy in Castine also were chosen.

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