MACHIAS, Maine — In an effort to turn around years of declining enrollment and financial challenges at the University of Maine at Machias, the University of Maine System leadership is considering making its smallest campus a satellite of the state’s flagship university.
The system board of trustees is scheduled to meet Monday at the University of Southern Maine in Portland to discuss a proposal that would make UMaine at Machias a branch campus of the University of Maine in Orono. The all-day meeting is scheduled to start at 8:30 a.m.
“Recognizing the enrollment and demographic challenges in the region and the financial stress they cause, [UMaine at Machias] and its many community partners have been challenged to fulfill their critical mission of service to students, the people of Washington County, and the State of Maine,” UMaine System officials wrote in board meeting materials.
Last April, campus and system officials announced a “primary partnership” between the campus in Machias and the flagship in Orono. The aim was to find ways to shore up the coastal campus, which has seen years of flagging enrollments and financial shortfalls and, according to system officials, wouldn’t be fiscally viable without intervention.
Since then, the campus presidents, members of the boards of visitors and system staff have been looking for ways to reorganize campus leadership and operations. That group is expected to issue a report and roll out its recommendations for the UMaine at Machias-UMaine partnership at Monday’s meeting. The report could include other options for structural and organizational changes at UMaine at Machias that fall short of the satellite campus option.
If UMaine at Machias were to fall under UMaine’s umbrella, administrative functions would be overseen by UMaine officials, eliminating the need for some administrative positions at UMaine at Machias. The board will consider whether to approve the group’s recommendations at its March meeting.
UMaine at Machias had 745 students enrolled at the start of the fall 2016 semester, nearly a 20 percent decline from its student headcount five years ago. The system office has repeatedly dipped into reserve funds to cover budget gaps in Machias, which had grown to more than $1 million by the time the system announced the partnership with UMaine.
The system office says it plans to work closely with the New England Association of Schools and Colleges to ensure the changes don’t cause accreditation problems.
Maine law requires the university system to include seven campuses located in their existing communities. Lawmakers drafted that addition in 2005 in response to concerns that some of the smaller campuses might be closed.
UMaine System spokesman Dan Demeritt said the system has vetted the changes carefully to ensure they’re in line with state law.
On Monday, trustees also are expected to hear an update on plans to have 20 percent of the food served on campuses sourced locally by 2020.
Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter at @nmccrea213.