AUGUSTA, Maine — The state’s largest public university will take the smallest under its wing starting July 1.
The University of Maine System Board of Trustees on Monday approved a plan to make the University of Maine at Machias a regional campus of the flagship university in Orono during its regular two-day meeting at the University of Maine at Augusta.
“It’s not easy bringing two institutions together like this,” Samuel Collins, the board’s chairman, said during the meeting, calling the partnership “momentous.”
In recent years, UMM, which has a roughly $9 million budget, has required up to $1 million from system reserves in order to close repeated budget gaps. Today, after cuts, restructuring and efforts to drive revenue, the campus is operating under a balanced budget.
Its student headcount has dropped to just 745 students, down from more than 1,300 in 2003. The campus has struggled to keep students in the seats as the population of high school graduates in Washington County has thinned out.
The persistent struggles sparked an intervention by University of Maine System officials last year. They launched a push to find a way to stop the bleeding, bring in new students and turn the university around.
“There is hard work left to do in making this successful,” Chancellor James Page told the trustees during the meeting.
Under the partnership, the system wants to solidify UMM’s role as “Maine’s Coastal University,” building a reputation as a leader in in marine industry education.
When the plan becomes reality, UMM President Sue Huseman will return to retirement and her role will be replaced by an executive dean, who will serve as the campus administrative figurehead, but report to UMaine President Susan Hunter. Most administrative functions will transfer to UMaine, but staff will still be available in Machias to meet face-to-face with students to help them with questions or requests.
“We’re hoping to bring the best of what each campus has to the table,” Huseman said during Monday’s trustees meeting. System and campus officials have said that it’s pivotal the two campuses maintain distinct identities and specialties — a focus of Chancellor James Page’s One University initiative.
Hunter said she’d be visiting Machias at least once each month leading up to the launch of the regional campus plan in July. She and Huseman have been meeting with students and faculty at the two campuses to explain the arrangement and counter concerns and rumors about the plan. Some students had speculated that the change would mean they’d no longer get a degree from UMM, or that they’d have to pay a higher tuition.
“The [Machias] students were very pleased to learn they wouldn’t be paying the University of Maine’s tuition rate,” Hunter joked with the trustees.
Machias’ tuition is $6,600 for in-state students, about $1,700 less than the cost of enrolling at the flagship school.
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