University of Southern Maine (USM) officials are moving forward to change the name of the University of Maine System affiliate by the beginning of the 2021 academic year. Some of the strongest contenders for the new name are “The University of Maine Portland” and “The University of Maine at Portland.”
Bob Stein, USM’s executive director of public affairs, says the change is coming in part as a result of market research indicating that, under its current name, USM struggles to attract out-of-state students.
Many prospective students don’t know that USM is connected to the University of Maine System, Stein said, and a large portion of those surveyed didn’t know that USM was in Maine.
The school’s URL is currently usm.maine.edu because the usm.edu domain is claimed by the University of Southern Mississippi.
According to a market survey from Broadreach Public Relations, 27 percent of prospective students from outside Maine knew that USM was centered in Portland. The same research found that 48 percent of students surveyed said they would be more likely to attend if they knew it was in Portland. Fifty percent of out-of-state guidance counselors said they would be more likely to recommend the university to students if they knew it was located in Portland.
As they consider potential changes to boost enrollment, USM officials are also conscious of the fact that, according to the Maine Department of Education, elementary and high school enrollment in the state has been falling for a decade and is expected to continue falling for another.
“We don’t actually have a business plan that’s sustainable,” USM President Glenn Cummings said. “We will be struggling with demographic decline for the next ten years.”
Cummings also noted that the name change is projected to cost $750,000 — Stein said closer to a million, possibly more — but the costs should be nullified by the projected increased enrollment.
Stein says that the change is also needed in order to align USM more closely with the rest of the System campuses. Currently, all six of the other campus names start with “University of Maine”, including the University of Maine School of Law, Maine’s only law school, which falls under the umbrella of the System.
The change is not popular among students, staff or alumni. According to USM’s own research, 57 percent of students and 66 percent of alumni oppose the change. 75 percent of the communities of the Gorham and Lewiston-Auburn campuses oppose the change.
This will be the sixth name change that the university has undergone since its founding as the Gorham Normal School in 1878.
Stein insists that once unimpressed students are shown the statistics from Broadreach’s market research, especially the potential increase in revenue and funding, they tend to change their minds.
USM has three campuses — in Gorham, Lewiston and Portland — and the change is one element of the university’s shift in focus toward the latter. Currently, all USM residence halls are located at the Gorham campus, where less than a sixth of the school’s 8,140-person student body attends classes. USM will build a new residence hall open to upperclassmen, graduate and law students in Portland in the next few years.
USM received a $1 million anonymous donation in August 2018 to launch the construction of a Center for the Arts in Portland.
The proposed change will need the approval of the Maine State Legislature before going forward.