August 23, 2018

University of Southern Maine ponders changing its name

Courtesy / University of Southern Maine
Courtesy / University of Southern Maine
Glenn Cummings, president of the University of Southern Maine, is shown in this October 2017 photo joined by Richard and Carolyn McGoldrick, who've initiated through the USM Foundation a $15 million campaign to fund the "Promise Scholarship" program. The program aspires to provide up to 100 students with as much as 50% of their costs to attend college. In a letter to USM alumni sent on Wednesday, Cummings floated the idea of changing the university's name to boost its brand appeal.

Timeline of University of Southern Maine

1878: Gorham Normal School founded.

1921: Portland University opens.

1933: Portland University merges with Portland Junior College.

1945: Name of Gorham Normal School is changed to Gorham State Teachers College.

1947: After closing for World War II, Portland Junior College reopens and purchases the Deering Estate, which is the current home of the Portland campus.

1957: Portland Junior College joins the UMaine System and becomes the University of Maine at Portland.

1964: Name of Gorham State Teachers College is changed to Gorham State College.

1970: University of Maine at Portland-­Gorham is born from a merger of Gorham State College and the University of Maine at Portland.

1978: Name is changed to University of Southern Maine.

1988: USM expands to open a Lewiston­-Auburn campus.

In a letter sent to alumni on Wednesday, University of Southern Maine President Glenn Cummings floated the idea of changing the university's name.

"Over the last few months, I have been thinking a lot about whether a new name for our university might better extend our geographic reach and enhance our reputation and appeal among college-bound students here in Maine and beyond," Cummings wrote in his letter. "I have begun to share my thinking with many members of the community and would like to ask for your input as a valuable member of our 52,000-strong alumni network."

Cummings reassured alumni the idea of changing USM's name "is only an exploration" that will include surveys seeking input from the entire university community as well as market and brand research to determine whether a name change would be beneficial in attracting potential students to the university, which has campuses in Portland, Gorham and Lewiston-Auburn.

"One important point to keep in mind is that our commitment to a three-campus presence in Portland, Gorham and Lewiston-Auburn will not be affected in any way by the outcome of this exploration. Even if the research indicates a name change would be beneficial to the university this would be a long and deliberative process."

One potential name that's emerged is "University of Maine Portland," the Portland Press Herald reported.

Robert Stein, USM's executive director of public affairs, told the Press Herald that the university has awarded a market research contract to Broadreach Public Relations and Market Decisions Research to survey the university community — a project expected to cost about $60,000.

The current name, University of Southern Maine, has been in place since 1978, when it changed from being known as University of Maine at Portland-Gorham.

The proposed name change comes on the heels of USM's 20% increase in out-of-state student enrollment in 2017 — with 921 enrolling, a 160-student increase from the previous year, according to the Bangor Daily News.

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