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Board launches chancellor search, adopts Declaration of Strategic Priorities to maintain direction and address Maine’s workforce challenges

Declaration to sustain and expand One University framework, committing Maine’s Universities to the establishment of efficient, cost-effective continuum of public education that provides lifelong access to flexible, relevant 21st Century learning

BANGOR MAINE – University of Maine System Chancellor James H. Page announced today his plans to retire at the end of the academic year. Dr. Page’s seven years of public higher education leadership and service restored the financial stability of the System and achieved a nation-leading commitment to affordability for Maine students and their families. The One University framework developed by Chancellor Page to guide Maine’s public higher education reform has become a national model of engagement and strategic change.

The Board adopted a Declaration of Strategic Priorities today following a month of institutional engagement led by the campus presidents that will sustain and expand the One University reform effort, guide a search for a new leader,and provide directives for University leaders over the next three to five years.

Dr. Page, 66, will be the second longest-serving chancellor in the fifty-year history of the University of Maine System at the end of his tenure. The national search for a System leader anticipates the appointment of a new chancellor 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, Chair of the University of Maine 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.   

“On behalf of the students and state we serve, the Board of Trustees expresses its sincere appreciation to Chancellor Page. The reforms and momentum achieved during his tenure position Maine’s public universities for transformational state leadership.”   

Stewardship, Partnership and Investment

Chancellor Page was first appointed in March of 2012 at a time of great demographic, competitive, and financial challenge that would grow to include a projected five-year $90 million structural deficit for the System. Furthermore, an unabated reliance on tuition increases to balance campus budgets threatened to push the cost of public higher education beyond the means of Maine’s working families.

Working on behalf of the Board and with campus presidents, the Chancellor oversaw a six-year tuition freeze, consolidated administrative functions across the campuses, saved more than $80 million in annual expenses, and made historic investments in student financial aid. Under the Chancellor’s leadership the University of Maine System addressed structural obstacles to collaboration bringing all university resources into focused support for all Maine learners, businesses, and communities.  

Removing administrative barriers makes it possible to share resources and pursue opportunities across institutions exemplified by the University of Maine at Machias becoming a regional campus of the University of Maine while maintaining an identity and mission aligned with community needs.

The fiscal stability and capacity for statewide partnership and leadership achieved under Chancellor Page positioned Maine’s public universities for 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.

“Leading Maine’s public university system is a tremendous public service opportunity and a great personal honor,” said Chancellor Page who helped craft and will begin the multi-year implementation of the strategic priorities adopted by the Board today. “The entire University community and our supporters across the state and beyond share in the success and standing we have achieved together. I am looking forward  to working with the Board, staff, and faculty on the early implementation of the strategic priorities that will guide our System and our service to Maine into the future.”

Declaration of Strategic Priorities: Multi-Year Drive to a Lifelong Continuum of Public Education

The Declaration of Strategic Priorities adopted today by the Board of Trustees identifies the key areas of focus for the next phase of the One University transition. Informed 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, the strategic priorities will guide and expedite higher education reform in Maine for the next three to five years.

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

New student and state-focused objectives included among the strategic priorities include plans to expand early college participation to 5,000 high school juniors and seniors by 2022 and the opportunity for at least half of Maine students to graduate from high school with an Associate degree or equivalent credits by 2025. The priorities adopted by the Board also include a commitment to maintaining 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.

The strategic priorities also envision the establishment of 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. In adopting the declaration, the Board is making it the policy of the University of Maine System to exercise leadership and collaborate across education systems and with policy makers to realize this vision.  

The strategic priorities synthesize a number of System-led efforts and Board reports delivered over the last year on the changing nature of workforce needs, student expectations, and affordable access to market-responsive academic programs and credentials. A draft was presented at the November 19, 2018, Board meeting for public discussion followed by stakeholder collaboration and campus engagement led by the individual university presidents.

Among the actions directed by the Declaration of Strategic Priorities are:

  • 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;
  • Adult Degree Completion and Employer Alignment: Prepare adult learners with affordable, flexible, and stackable credential and degree-based programming aligned with the needs of this learner population and their employers;
  • Early College: Expand UMS early college programming to reach at least 5,000 Maine high school juniors and seniors and develop sustainable and scalable financial models for the programs; and
  • Student Debt: To help retain its status as a national leader in higher education affordability and tuition restraint, collaborate with policy makers to develop statewide strategies to increase affordability and reduce student debt.

An Advantageous Occasion for Leadership Change

The three-to-five-year time frame required for implementing the next phase of public higher education reform in Maine extends beyond a commitment of service from Chancellor Page that has already been extended twice at the request of the Trustees. Transitioning to new System leadership will provide the continuity needed for the multi-year pursuit of the declaration’s objectives and an extended opportunity to develop and maintain effective partnerships with a new administration and elected leaders at the State House.

The succession plan the Board and Chancellor Page developed included the establishment of a strong team of reform and service-focused System and campus leaders, a significant demonstration of public support and corresponding investment in the institutions, and the development of the multi-year Declaration of Strategic Priorities that expands and extends the One University concept of aligned support of all Maine students, businesses and communities.

With these pieces in place the Board is proceeding with a search for a new System chancellor.  Trustee and former Board Chair Sam Collins will Chair the Chancellor Search Committee.

“It is essential that Maine provide its communities and citizens with affordable, lifelong access to flexible, relevant 21st Century learning,” said Sam Collins, Trustee and Chair 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.”