EDITORIALS

‘Bigger, Bolder’ University System

Posted Sept. 29, 2011, at 4:26 p.m.
Gov. Paul LePage
Robert F. Bukaty | AP
Gov. Paul LePage

By giving the University of Maine System a push to be bolder and more efficient, Gov. Paul LePage has hastened ongoing, but often too slow, work toward these goals. The governor and his administration could now be most helpful by working with system leaders to set specific metrics to assess the system’s progress in remaking itself to meet financial and demographic realities.

Should, for example, the ratio of instructor to noninstructor jobs, one the governor highlighted, be at the national average? What factors — teaching load, grant money brought in, graduation rates — should be used to measure productivity?

The governor’s directive for “bigger and bolder” thinking came in a Sept. 19 letter he sent to the chair of the UMS board of trustees, Michelle Hood, the CEO of Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems.

“Given the tough economic choices facing the state, more money — either from the general fund or tuition increases — cannot be the solution,” Gov. LePage wrote. “Instead, I suggest reforms related to resource allocation, increased productivity, elimination of duplicative services, specialization, innovation and perhaps through the selection of a proven agent of change as the next chancellor of the university system.”

The governor’s letter is part of an on-going discussion about the system’s role both economically and educationally, Ms. Hood said. She said the UMS board has long been aware that the system must continue to focus on efficiency and effectiveness.

Part of that effort is a report called “New Challenges, New Directions,” which called for many changes at both the system and campus level that are already under way. For example, programs with few students were targeted for elimination and programs offered at several campuses were consolidated.

The governor acknowledged the reform work done as part of the system’s “New Challenges, New Directions” initiatives. But, like these pages have for more than a decade, he is seeking more evidence that the university system was serious about eliminating duplication and using financial resources efficiently to meet the state’s needs.

To address this persistent concern, which sometimes undermines support of the university system, the system must be willing to allow a fuller review of central office and campus operations and measure them against national norms.

The board is currently developing performance metrics that will be used to better quantify how the system and its seven campuses use state resources, for example. Metrics are also being crafted to assess the quality of education within the system.

Such metrics should be shared with the governor and other decision makes quickly to ensure they match the call for an efficient higher education system that delivers what Maine needs. They should also be bench marked against national numbers as appropriate.

By asking the system’s trustees to look for a change agent as the next chancellor, the governor has further made his general expectations clear. Now, he should and system officials must define what change the state needs. Setting clear parameters the system is expected to meet should guide such change.

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