In taking stock of my first year at the University of Maine System, what is most clear is this: Maine’s public universities are a critical, irreplaceable factor in Maine’s success, and our universities cannot be considered successful unless our people and businesses are successful.
As a public university system, we have many responsibilities, but none greater than to help Maine prosper. We must have a strong, stable and growing economy — one that will sustain our businesses, attract investment and offer real opportunities for all of our citizens and, most particularly, for our young people and their families. The University of Maine System must be a partner and a leader in this task.
A major responsibility of our public universities is to be affordable to average Maine families. Tuition at our universities has been frozen at 2012 levels, and we are prepared to continue this for the next two years if state leadership is able to hold the university appropriation flat for the next budget cycle. If we are successful, this would result in three years with no tuition increases, the longest such period in more than 25 years.
Another responsibility is for the system to become more efficient, thereby reducing costs. We have a multi-year, top-to-bottom review under way for all administrative services — including areas such as information technology, human resources and procurement — with the twin goals of enhancing service while reducing costs. To ensure our costs stay under control, we must link future tuition increases to Maine families’ median household income. Simply put: We adjust our costs to what Maine families can afford, and we will link our success to our families’ successes.
In order to achieve that success, we must deliver programs that serve a wide range of peoples’ needs and schedules by further utilizing distance and online education. For example, using today’s technologies, the work of our best faculty should be available to any student, no matter where they are located in Maine.
In addition, to be responsive to Maine’s needs we must be the statewide leader in research and economic development. Who else has the expertise, resources, geographic reach and the singular mission of supporting and enhancing our industries and businesses? Our long history of partnerships speaks to this engagement. Our Cooperative Extension, for example, partners with more than 3,000 Maine businesses across the state every year.
The University of Maine System advances research and economic development on three fronts: the development of new knowledge and technologies with an emphasis on those that are of direct value to Maine industries; the development of more public-private partnerships to advance business opportunities; and through workforce development.
Our largest research enterprise at UMaine’s Orono campus has grown to an average of $100 million in annual research-related expenditures, in areas such as the well-known global leadership in the use of composites in wind energy production; in working with Verso Paper and the federal government on developing the first nanocellulose pilot plant to decrease the weight of paper, packaging and advanced composites for the industry; and in working with Maine companies such as Cerealus Holdings in Waterville to develop bio-based technologies for the food and paper industries. These are only a few examples of how our partnerships with Maine industries are moving our state forward and helping them compete in the global economy.
In summary, our commitment to the people of Maine is this: The University of Maine System will be the most responsive public university system in the country in meeting statewide needs and opportunities for our students, families, businesses and communities. To meet this commitment, we are building an integrated system of public higher education to a level never before seen in Maine. Our success is to be measured by the success of the people of Maine. It’s that simple.
University of Maine System Chancellor Dr. James H. Page is a Maine native and longtime business leader. He is a graduate of the University of Maine at Fort Kent, St. Andrews University in Scotland, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He lives in Old Town.