June 21, 2018
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University of Maine System faces declining enrollment, aging facilities

Michael C. York | BDN
Michael C. York | BDN
Rebecca Wyke
By Nick McCrea, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — The University of Maine System board of trustees passed a balanced budget for 2012-13 on Monday despite a $2.3 million reduction in the state appropriation, decreasing enrollment and the first freeze on in-state undergraduate tuition since 1987.

But “the current operating model will not be sustainable over time,” said Rebecca Wyke, the system’s vice chancellor for finance and administration.

The budget reflects nearly $529 million in expenses, about $5.4 million less than fiscal year 2011-12.

The universities will increase some student fees, mostly at the University of Maine School of Law and for graduate students. Room and board charges are rising by between $150 and $250 over the last fiscal year.

The University of Southern Maine’s room and board fees will decrease by $528 because USM is trying to draw more students into its residence halls.

Enrollment in the system is projected to continue to dip in the next school year, continuing recent trends. In 2007, the system had a student head count of 32,340, which had dropped to 30,080 by 2011, according to a fiscal year 2011-12 system enrollment report. State demographics indicate those numbers might not improve anytime soon.

Maine’s population of 15- to 24-year-olds is expected to decline by nearly 20 percent between 2010 and 2020, according to Wyke, adding that nearly half of all high school graduates don’t attend college.

Wyke and system Chancellor James Page have said the system needs to look to expand its distance education efforts, draw more adults and attract a higher percentage of Maine students to the state university system.

The system also faces the challenge of aging infrastructure, with 69 percent of its more than 650 buildings built more than 25 years ago. Many of those buildings are in need of significant maintenance but costs have been deferred and the backlog is adding up to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Meanwhile, university faculty unions continue to lobby for new contracts and salary increases.

Page said the system can’t expect to see more money anytime in the near future.

In 2008, the system got $6.2 million more from the state than it did this fiscal year.

“We have to change the way we approach these matters” and do more strategic planning rather than react to funding cuts and a dwindling demographic environment, Page said.

Page said the system needs to start:

• Aligning system funding with performance-based outcomes, which will include a review of performance-based funding models.

• Review administrative costs and structures at all levels of the system and reallocate savings from administration and infrastructure to campus faculty, research and public service efforts.

• Improving the college credit transfer process so students can transition more easily from one university system campus to another or from the community college system to the university system and vice versa.

There was little discussion of the budget on Monday because the Finance and Facilities Committee reviewed the budget in detail during a May 14 meeting.

In other business at Monday’s meeting, the board awarded Theodora Kalikow the title of president emerita at the University of Maine at Farmington. She is retiring from the presidency of that school on June 30.

University of Maine at Presque Isle President Donald Zillman also plans to step down in order to return to teaching. Michelle Hood, chairwoman of the board of trustees, read board resolutions thanking the two presidents for their years of service and listing the accomplishments of the universities while under their leadership.

“When you see a turtle on top of a fencepost, you know it didn’t get there by itself,” Kalikow said, borrowing a quote from a greeting card to acknowledge the board, UMF staff and students for helping her along the way.

The board also voted to demolish two buildings at the UMF campus and updated the system’s student code of conduct, which is required every three years.

The next meeting of the UMS board of trustees is scheduled for July 9 at the system office in Bangor.

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