Friday, April 20, marked the day of President Hunter’s last formal business event with University of Maine system chancellor, James Page. The meeting discussed issues facing the University of Maine with a focus on demographics, and how they will go on to affect the state of Maine in the long term.
The idea of addressing demographics was brought to Page’s attention by a recent front-page article in the Chronicle of Higher Education having to do with demographics in rural America. The article also touched on what the University of Maine system is doing to address any challenges that come along with having such demographics.
“We’re leading the way, you’re leading the way, with the state, and I think that is the key relationship, we’re going to be here to serve our students, to serve our families, businesses, and communities, in addressing these challenges,” Page said. “Because left to their own, these numbers are catastrophic for the state of Maine, and I use that term not dramatically, but I think accurately.”
Page congratulated Hunter and the team that has been leading the way in addressing these issues, noting that while there may be bumps along the way, he believes that they will ultimately be successful.
Page then discussed the findings in a required reading for all board of trustees members, a book called “Demographics and the Demand for Higher Education.” “It takes state by state, and sixty urban centers, and traces their demographics and demand for higher education over the next twenty-plus years,” Page said.
He continued, “all of New England, including Boston, will see a decline in the population base of traditional college age students of greater than fifteen percent.”
Hunter then gave her thoughts on the importance of the issue, saying that the University of Maine, as the flagship campus, is responsible for the whole state.
Speaking on the decrease of the college age population, Hunter said, “the preservation of the rural campuses plays into this because without those campuses being viable as sites of education, as the cultural hubs of their community, as really the intellectual hubs, in those regions, we are basically, I think, failing in our responsibility.”
Hunter followed that, saying, “the state is not just Portland, it’s not just Bangor, it’s vast beyond here, and to walk away from that responsibility, I think is completely untenable and actually immoral.” Hunter continued, saying, “we need every single person in this state to be credentialed to do something and to really be a valuable member of our society, and right now, we’re not doing that… Abandoning the number of people that are really not engaged in our community is completely wrong, because it’s not financially viable and it’s unethical.”
Another issue facing the University of Maine system that was brought up by a member of the audience was the financial support from undergraduate students towards research efforts. This lead to discussion on the University of Maine system’s ability to sustain the cost of maintenance.
Page said, “We have nine million square feet around the system, and we can’t maintain that, it doesn’t work.” Page continued, “we have taken out about a net reduction on the last few years of about 300,000 square feet, and there are plans active right now to take out another 300,000 to 500,000, and that will help.”
He further explained the dilemma, saying, “I think the real difficulty is that we are highly distributed, and some of it needs to [be] central, where the labs are, and some of it, especially in terms of some educational processes can be virtual.”