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December 20, 2018

UMaine trustees set 'strategic priorities' for next three to five years

Courtesy / University of Maine System University of Maine at Presque Isle is one of four UMaine System campuses offering free tuition to financially challenged students hoping to pursue full-time study. On Wednesday, the University of Maine System's board of trustees unanimously approved a "declaration of strategic priorities" to continue the One University reform effort that spurred the free tuition and other initiatives designed to increase student enrollment in Maine's public universities.

University of Maine System’s board of trustees adopted on Wednesday a multi-year set of strategic priorities that are intended to continue and expand the One University reform effort over the next three to five years.

The “declaration of strategic priorities” approved unanimously by the board also commits the UMaine System’s seven campuses to continue building efficient and cost-effective public education programs designed to meet the needs of Mainers of all ages as well as help businesses address their workforce challenges.

In addition to adopting the priorities, the board expressed appreciation of Chancellor James H. Page’s seven years leading the UMaine system. Page, 66, announced earlier this week his intention to retire on June 30. A national search for his replacement has begun, with the intention of hiring his replacement in the summer of 2019.

“Jim Page has provided pioneering higher education leadership and student and state-focused public service during his tenure as Chancellor of the University of Maine System,” said James Erwin, chairman of the UMaine System. “Engaging the campuses and university stakeholders in the reform process, Chancellor Page and the presidents were able to solve complex problems and build consensus while never conceding the primacy of the university scholarship and public service mission. ... The reforms and momentum achieved during his tenure position Maine’s public universities for transformational state leadership.”

Building on the momentum

In stark contrast to the five-year $90 million structural deficit the UMaine System faced when Page became chancellor in March 2012, the trustees’ adoption of strategic priorities rests on a solid foundation resulting from One University reforms already launched.

Some examples:

  • Maine’s public universities received a record $102 million in student and state-focused public investment over the course of the last biennium. New investments include a $3 million appropriation that is expanding early college opportunities to every Maine community, a commitment of $50 million in debt service from the Legislature to support an increase in STEM and critical engineering education capacity, and a $49 million voter-supported general obligation bond to invest in the workforce development infrastructure of all seven campuses.
  • Nearly 2,800 students from approximately 100 different Maine high schools are earning low- or no-cost college credits and preparing for a Maine career with early college courses through the University of Maine System's expansion of its early college programs in the fall semester. The initiatives are part of a plan to expand access and develop a coordinated, statewide early college program with the support of a $3 million early college investment provided by the Legislature. The goal of the new initiatives is to help students explore and prepare for Maine Careers and succeed academically.
  • Enrollment is up 2.5% this fall, increasing the student population of the UMaine System by 738 students. One-third of the enrollment increase can be directly attributed to another record year of out-of-state enrollment, with 5,972 non-residents students attending UMaine campuses this fall. Maine's tuition advantage compared to other states, coupled with the quality of the university programs, were cited by the UMaine System as key reasons for the record number of out-of-state enrollments.
  • In September the UMaine System unveiled a five-year strategic plan to tackle the state’s nursing shortage, including an initiative to cover tuition and mandatory fees for nursing students in regions with the most urgent need to replace retiring nurses.

Declaration of Strategic Priorities

The strategic priorities adopted on Wednesday are guided by “Maine’s workforce needs, the state’s demographic challenges and the need to meet student and employer expectations for post-secondary education in a rapidly changing marketplace,” according to a news release.

Advancing the strategic priorities over the next three to five years will support existing One University objectives, such as the plans to double nursing and engineering enrollment in response to workforce shortages that could leave thousands of health care, manufacturing, transportation, engineering consulting and utility jobs unfilled over the next 10 years.

The priorities also direct the universities to bring programming and services into alignment with the needs of Maine’s adult learner population and their employers. As part of this effort, the System is a founding member of the MaineSpark coalition which aims to prepare 60% of Mainers with a degree or workforce credential by 2025.

Other features include:

  • Expand early college participation to 5,000 high school juniors and seniors by 2022 and provide the opportunity for at least half of Maine students to graduate from high school with an Associate degree or equivalent credits by 2025.
  • Maintain Maine’s national leadership in “higher education affordability and the creation of pathways to degrees and credentials without tuition debt for students with the highest financial need.”
  • Establish an efficient and cost-effective continuum of public education that provides the people of Maine with access to flexible, relevant 21st Century learning that extends from early childhood to retirement.
  • Workforce engagement: Develop programs and connections with associated industries that maximize workforce impact and business and economic development.
  • University of Maine System Research: Support Maine industries and foster business formation and expansion through increased focus on research and economic development.
  • Micro-credentials: Collaborate with existing businesses, non-profit, and community partners to develop micro-credentials for economic advancement and expansion.

The trustees acknowledged that the three-to-five-year time frame for those strategic priorities will fall under the tenure of Page’s successor as chancellor. The search for a new chancellor will be led by former board chairman Sam Collins.

“It is essential that Maine provide its communities and citizens with affordable, lifelong access to flexible, relevant 21st Century learning,” said Collins, trustee and chairman of the Chancellor Search Committee. “With great appreciation for the service, leadership and friendship of Dr. James Page we embark on the search for a new leader for the University of Maine System who will help us build on our success and swiftly achieve the public education innovation, alignment and investment we need to address Maine’s workforce and demographic challenges.”

Read more

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