November 14, 2018
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Struggles at Machias campus prompt partnership with UMaine in Orono

Gabor Degre | BDN
Gabor Degre | BDN
University of Maine System Chancellor James Page (right), University of Maine President Susan Hunter and University of Maine interim president Stuart Swain.

BANGOR, Maine — Faced with declining enrollment and growing deficits, the University of Maine System’s smallest campus, the University of Maine at Machias, will enter a “primary partnership” with the flagship campus in Orono to find ways to attract students and improve finances.

UMM in its current state is not financially viable, according to system officials. UMS has used reserves to close budget gaps, which grew from $400,000 in fiscal year 2012 to more than $1 million today. That deficit accounts for about 10 percent of UMM’s entire budget.

The problems result in part from the campus’s struggle to find students. The number of students from out of state, who pay higher tuition rates, has dropped by more than half during that same timeframe.

More than half of UMM’s students come from Washington and Hancock counties, which have seen continued population declines in recent years. The number of graduates from Washington County high schools has dropped 30 percent since 2007.

“If we don’t do anything different, this deficit will be permanent,” UMS Chancellor James Page said Wednesday.

With just 66 full-time faculty and staff at the campus, there isn’t much room to cut, so the hope is that these partnerships will identify ways to drive enrollment.

In an effort to turn things around, the system has announced a partnership between UMM and UMaine. They will coalesce a team of administrators to review 30 administrative functions to determine new ways they could share resources. UMM already is using UMaine’s financial aid management staff after losing an administrator who handled that on their campus.

Another group of faculty and academic leaders will explore new models of enrollment and programs that could send students from the Orono campus to classes in Machias and vice versa. The system also plans to explore whether Machias could attract more Down East residents to graduate programs, especially in education. Page said there’s demand in the area for such programs and that competitors such as Husson University already have taken advantage of it.

A third group of system-level officials and community leaders will form a picture of what these changes will look like and explore implications on accreditation and the missions of both campuses.

Each of those teams will draft a report recommending areas where the two campuses could work together, find efficiencies and drive new enrollment. Page would review their findings and bring recommendations to the Board of Trustees at a meeting in November, which will be held in Machias.

The system announced the plan during meetings last week with faculty and staff at both campuses.

University of Maine President Susan Hunter said the flagship campus could benefit from new partnerships and opportunities at a coastal university, considering UMaine’s integral role in Maine aquaculture, marine science and engineering.

“Combining our excellent programs and community focus with the reach and depth of Maine’s flagship university, we can achieve the scale needed to enhance quality education on the coast of Maine for generations to come,” UMM interim President Stuart Swain said.

This work falls under the umbrella of Page’s One University initiative, an effort to drive cooperation and collaboration among campuses, focus institutions on their strongest programs, decrease duplication and make the system’s schools more competitive.

Page said the work between UMaine and UMM could serve as a guide for changes that could happen on other campuses but stressed that each campus faces unique problems, so a “cookie-cutter” approach won’t work.

“I think there will be some really good lessons here,” Page said.

Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter at @nmccrea213.

 


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