ORONO, Maine — The University of Maine System received failing grades in all but one of five areas evaluated in a report released Wednesday by a conservative think tank.
The report, “Made in Maine: A State Report on Public Higher Education,” gave the four-year public colleges and universities run by the University of Maine System grades of pass or fail for general education, intellectual diversity, cost and effectiveness, and governance, which was divided into two subsections — board accomplishments, and board structure and transparency of operations.
The system received a passing grade in board structure and transparency of operations.
“At this pivotal time for Maine’s taxpayer-supported universities, our report card finds that while they are run in a generally transparent manner, they have real challenges to address in raising academic standards, increasing graduation rates and controlling rising tuition costs,” the reports states in its executive summary.
The report, prepared by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni with the Idaho Freedom Foundation, was released Wednesday at a press conference at the University of Maine held by the Maine Heritage Foundation.
Richard L. Pattenaude, chancellor of the University of Maine System, said that the concerns outlined in the report are being addressed.
“We recognize and have been working on a number of the issues outlined in this report,” he said in an email statement issued after the press conference. “Our ‘New Challenges, New Directions’ initiative focuses on keeping education affordable, reducing our costs, and serving the state’s educational needs.”
Pattenaude added that he always appreciates input on the work of the system and the report would be used, along with others, to chart the system’s future.
“Like every other public higher education institution, our trustees have been very focused on financial sustainability in these challenging economic times,” he said. “However, our trustees also place great emphasis on making academic outcomes a priority. I’m pleased to note that work is already under way to improve retention rates, graduation rates, and to align academic programs to best meet Maine’s workforce needs.”
The report called an area of “real concern” the rapid increase in in-state tuition and fees. Those costs at state colleges and universities rose an average of 35 percent between 2004 and 2009. Tuition at the University of Maine at Farmington rose 50 percent during those five years, the report said.
Not only have tuition costs risen far faster than inflation, they also are taking a bigger bite out of household income, according to the report. In 2004, Maine families could expect to pay 12.1 percent of their household income for tuition and fees. That percentage had increased to 16.1 percent by 2009 — an increase of one-third when adjusted for inflation.
Another major concern, according to the report, is the rate of graduation and how long it takes students to complete bachelor’s degrees.
“System-wide, only about one in five students admitted to a four-year program at a UMS institution will graduate on time,” it concluded. “Even if given six years, the system only manages to graduate about 40 percent of its students.”