On the afternoon of Monday, Sept. 26, hundreds of faculty and concerned citizens gathered in Donald P. Corbett 100 to hear the University of Maine Chancellor James H. Page speak about higher education. In addition, Robert Neely, Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs; Ryan Low, Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer; and Rebecca Wyke, Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration spoke to the audience. President of the University of Maine Dr. Susan J. Hunter was in attendance.
Page started the conversation by discussing his investment in the University of Maine System (UMS), explaining that a group of his people will be visiting each UMS campus in the next two weeks to discuss four primary focus areas. These areas include enrollment, student success, research and economic development and physical health. “UMaine has been front and center in a number of these initiatives.” Dr. Hunter added.
Page elaborated on the primary focuses by mentioning that Maine as a state has historically lagged in the Northeast in graduating students with both Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science degrees, as well as graduate degrees. He predicts that two-thirds of jobs created in the next few years will require a four-year degree or more. According to Bob Neely’s presentation, in 2015, the UMaine system had a 26-52 percent six-year graduation rate, while the nation had a 58 percent six-year graduation rate of public universities.
Neely, a new addition to the chancellor team, had been in Maine for 21 days as of the day of the presentation. He too agreed, after his initial observation of the system, that increasing enrollment is a priority of his as well. Neely believes to increase enrollment, the system needs to focus on 4 ideas.
He calls his method the AAAC model, which includes focuses of accessibility, affordability, accountability and completion of student degrees. He raised many questions to the audience — are we providing the right kinds of programs and opportunities for students? Are we providing them at the right venues and times with students’ schedules? Are these programs accessible to non-traditional students?
Neely also highlighted the importance of student debt and expectations of students and parents of payment for the university system. He explained it is crucial to understand how and why we are using our resources to ensure they are being distributed properly.
“The world is one grand experiment,” Neely said, to end his portion of the presentation. “We just need to try some academic experiments and see if they work.”
Neely was asked by a faculty member if he has plans to interact directly with the faculty. Neely explained that currently, faculty report to the deans and superiors of their respective colleges. He has plans to change that — to work directly with faculty to inform them of the UMS’ progress and answer any questions or concerns they have when they come up.
Next to speak was Rebecca Wyke, who started by bringing to attention the creation of the mission of the UMS. “On a retreat in 2015, the president’s council agreed on a formal purpose for the UMS system — to ‘build futures and strengthen Maine.’”
Wyke then introduced her plan to increase enrollment within the system. She discussed the need for market research and analysis and creating a market focus for potential students. “If we want to regain market share, we need to invest more,” Wyke mentioned to the audience.
“We need a total investment of $20M over the next five years.” This money is set to be split between various marketing efforts. Wyke focused largely on the focus of student success and completion, explaining that the primary time to interact with them fully is during their first and second years when retention rates are lower. Offering services, support systems and financial aid are just some of the ideas Wyke mentioned to improve retention rates for students. Her presentation is available on thinkmissionexcellence.maine.edu.
Next on the docket was Ryan Lowe, who discussed his investment plan for the UMS. A concern of his is the condition of the Orono facilities, mentioning that by 2020, 53 percent of the campuses buildings will be over 50 years old. He added that as a whole, him and the team regularly meet with the Governor of Maine, Paul LePage, regarding investment opportunities for the UMS.
Some priorities of Lowe were higher education, avoiding increases in tuition and debt services for students.
One concerned faculty member explained his frustrations of the timing of certain information from the chancellor and his team. “When we hear things from the system, we’re supposed to trust them, but there is no dialogue between the system and the faculty. We’re finding out information late…or not at all.” Page replied by explaining that once his team figures out the what’s, how’s, why’s and when’s, the response time to the faculty is about 7-10 days.
Page was also asked about the partnership with UMaine and University of Maine at Machias and if there were further plans to partner with other campuses. He explained that the University of Maine System is exploring these options with Fort Kent and Presque Isle.
Page ended his presentation by informing the audience that his Bangor offices were closing and his new offices were in Estabrooke Hall. He added that other members of his team had offices in Augusta and Portland as well.