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February 7, 2022

UMaine climbs to highest tier of national research universities

2 people in lab Courtesy / University of Maine Over the last five years, research and development expenditures at UMaine have grown 80.2%, helping the school achieve designation as a top-tier research university.

Until recently, Maine was among only a few rural states without a single top-tier research university.

That changed last week, when the University of Maine received an "R1" designation from the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education.  

R1 is a coveted distinction that signifies "very high research activity by a doctoral university," according to Carnegie.

There are only 146 R1 universities in the country. That’s just 3.7% of the 3,982 degree-granting postsecondary institutions in the U.S.

“The research enterprise at the University of Maine is a vital state economic and educational asset,” University of Maine System Chancellor Dannel Malloy said in a news release. 

Talent attraction and investment

Malloy called the R1 designation the world standard for research universities and credited the system’s research faculty and staff along with UMaine’s president, Joan Ferrini-Mundy, and vice president for research, Kody Varahramyan, and their teams.

“With it, we will attract more talent, investment and innovation to Maine,” he said. 

The Carnegie Classification was created in 1970 by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, a California-based education policy and research center. The classification is managed by Indiana University’s Center for Postsecondary Research. 

R1 pertains to doctoral universities that awarded at least 20 research/scholarship doctoral degrees during the year and also institutions with below 20 research/scholarship doctoral degrees that awarded at least 30 professional practice doctoral degrees in at least two programs, according to the program’s website.

The R1 designation is the highest tier a doctoral research university can achieve in the Carnegie Classification. Updates are completed every three years. 

Expanded research

UMaine’s research enterprise spans Maine, including the newly launched UMaine Portland Gateway. And in the University of Maine System’s unified accreditation environment, faculty at other University of Maine System universities have the opportunity to partner with UMaine researchers, allowing them to expand their own research along with the reach and impact of the flagship’s well-established research infrastructure.

Over the last five years, research and development expenditures at UMaine have grown 80.2% to an all-time high of $179.3 million for 2021. External funding in support of research and development increased 135% to $133.6 million, and UMaine has achieved record graduate and doctoral student enrollments. 

“This is also in recognition that at UMaine, we have been creating a modern 21st-century research university, with nationally and internationally recognized programs of global impact and local relevance that address the workforce needs and advance the social and economic development of Maine and beyond,” Varahramyan said of the designation.

Road to R1 

The goal of achieving R1 status was articulated in the system’s research and development plan for FY 2020 to 2024, published in May 2019. 

Ferrini-Mundy, lead author of the plan, reported that faculty and staff had begun meeting to address the steps that would lead to a top-tier research designation. Building on the work of research colleagues and others, Ferrini-Mundy presented an investment and development plan for R1 status by Fiscal Year 2024 to the board of trustees at its May 2020 meeting.  

“Increases in state and federal support for research projects and infrastructure have been critical in our advancement,” said Ferrini-Mundy, who is president of UMaine and the University of Maine at Machias, and UMS Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation. “Since 1998, the Maine Legislature has provided vital funding through the Maine Economic Improvement Fund.”

She also credited Gov. Janet Mills, U.S. Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Angus King, I-Maine, and U.S. Reps. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine 1st District, and Jared Golden, D-Maine 2nd District, for their support of the public research university.

In separate statements, Mills and the legislators said the designation could globalize Maine’s reputation as a top-flight research institution and as a premier destination for innovation as well as continue to attract top talent and create new research opportunities.

Economic development

The designation recognizes projects such as green energy and materials research taking place at UMaine, including offshore wind energy, sustainable forest-derived materials, large-scale 3D printing technology for boats and housing, more durable and lightweight composites bridges now being exported from Maine, noted Habib Dagher, executive director of UMaine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center.

“All such projects address some of our most pressing issues while driving economic development and providing hands-on, relevant learning experiences for our students,” he said.

Brit Svoboda, chair and CEO of Advanced Infrastructure Technologies, said its AIT Bridges division would not exist if it were not for research conducted at UMaine. 

“We’ve worked hand-in-hand with the university for more than a decade to commercialize composite arch bridge systems and components developed at UMaine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center, building our company in Brewer with a workforce that includes numerous UMaine engineers,” Svoboda said.

“The university is an essential innovation and talent partner and we’re thrilled to see their capabilities recognized by the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education.”

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