The state’s public university system will take steps to abandon separate accreditation for its seven universities in favor of an accreditation that applies to the system as a whole.
The University of Maine System’s board of trustees on Monday approved a recommendation from Chancellor Dannel Malloy for a single, statewide accreditation for the 30,000-student public university system.
A university’s accreditation is essentially a stamp approval that shows it meets a benchmark of quality. It’s meant to signify that the university’s academic programs meet basic quality standards, that its facilities are sufficient for a college education and that the university has a particular organizational structure.
After Monday’s unanimous vote, Malloy and his team will develop a more detailed plan to seek a system accreditation from the regional accrediting organization, the New England Commission of Higher Education. The plan will also include steps to have the state’s seven public universities collaborate more closely and share more services.
Malloy will spend the next few weeks traveling to university campuses to speak with professors, university staff, students and others about the unified accreditation. He told trustees he will visit each campus at least three times.
“The only way to make this effort successful is to build it from the ground up, to have the campuses construct it with us, as we think about how to coordinate to unify this work across the system,” said Jim Thelen, Malloy’s chief of staff and the university system’s general counsel.
Under the unified accreditation Malloy has recommended, smaller campuses such as those in Presque Isle and Fort Kent — which share administrators and collaborate so much that regional accreditors have questioned whether they can maintain separate accreditation — could lean on the system as a whole to satisfy accreditation requirements, which are set by the New England Commission of Higher Education. Already, the University of Maine at Machias, which became a regional campus of the flagship University of Maine in 2017, has fallen under UMaine’s accreditation since last year.
Administrators on Monday said the unified accreditation could make it easier for professors on different campuses to collaborate on research and for students to take courses offered by other universities in the system.
“With better connections we can get students to graduate on time,” University of Southern Maine President Glenn Cummings said.
There is no precedent for a unified, system-wide accreditation that the University of Maine System can follow, Malloy said.
Despite the single accreditation, individual universities would continue to exist in their current locations as independently managed institutions, and students would continue to earn diplomas from those universities, not the University of Maine System. University system leaders have not yet worked out the effect of a single accreditation on faculty positions and tuition.
The board of trustees will hear Malloy’s report on accreditation at its meeting in November and expect to take action early next year.