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Chancellor Page: Report to the 127th Legislature

James H. Page, Chancellor
March 3, 2015
Report to the 127th Legislature on the University of Maine System

INTRODUCTION

President Thibodeau, Speaker Eves, honorable members of the 127th Maine Legislature, President Brennan, President Langhauser, distinguished guests and friends: On behalf of the Board of Trustees, Presidents, Boards of Visitors, Faculty, Students, and Staff of your public universities, I extend greetings and thank you for the opportunity to address you concerning the state of Maine’s public universities.

 

THE NEED FOR CHANGE

Maine’s public university system has the responsibility defined in our tripartite mission of education, research, and public service to advance opportunities for every Maine citizen, business, and community. Yet, as we all know, our universities face an unprecedented combination of economic, demographic, and competitive challenges. The most stark representation of these challenges is the approximately $75MM structural budget gap we will accrue between now and FY19 if we make no changes.

Put simply, Maine cannot afford the system we now have, but we can afford a better system.

Maine cannot afford:

  • A system historically divided into silos within silos that results in inefficiency and inevitable turf protection while stifling innovation;
  • A system weighed down by far too much administration and burdened with too many outdated facilities;
  • A system that is not sufficiently responsive to Maine’s 21st century economic needs and opportunities, and whose costs threaten to make a college education too expensive for average Maine families.

Maine can afford – and must have – a better System that is singularly focused on student success and institutional responsiveness to state needs:

  • A university where structure and culture reward efficiency, collaboration, and innovation;
  • A university where administration is dramatically reduced and reformed, with a smaller, modernized facilities footprint focused on instruction and research;
  • A university whose programs are affordable, whose research drives economic growth statewide, and, most importantly, which is unwaveringly focused on student success.

We are working hard to create that university.

To reduce the structural gap, we have taken the very difficult but necessary step of eliminating more than 900 positions, or 16.7% of our workforce, since 2007; 556 in the past two years. We are just now completing the first-ever comprehensive study of our more than 550 buildings, too many of which require major rehabilitation if they are to remain functionally viable, with the goal of significantly reducing our facilities footprint. All told, in FYs 15 & 16 we have made more than $50MM in reductions and reallocations, resulting in more than $30MM in net ongoing savings, with more to follow in the years it will take to eliminate completely the current causes of the structural gap. But to be clear, we will not close this gap on the backs of students and taxpayers.

We understand that maintaining a quality, affordable education must be our top priority. Thanks to the Trustees’ and presidents’ leadership, with critical support from the Governor and Legislature, we are in our third year of a tuition freeze for in-state undergraduate students. Maine leads the nation in controlling tuition increases for public 4-year institutions. Adjusted for inflation, the rate of increase for the past 5 years for the University of Maine System is 0%, while the national average for that same period is 17%.

Since I last addressed you, we have initiated many change efforts including administrative consolidations and new or enhanced programs to increase STEM graduates. There are a number of examples I could cite, but two watershed initiatives warrant further detail.

First, no issue makes a stronger case for change than credit transfer. When I addressed you two years ago, I made a commitment to instituting comprehensive credit transfer, a matter decades overdue. We are now implementing that program on schedule. We have a robust transfer website and portal for our students and their advisors to navigate the transfer process, and we are instituting Block Transfer for most general education categories which, when complete this May, will result in a block of approximately 35 credits being uniformly accepted across all our campuses. Our institutions have adjusted their prior learning assessment requirements so they align and transfer system-wide, and two teams, one in computer science and the other in nursing, are taking the lead in determining how major-to-major pathways in disciplines critical to Maine’s economic future are best organized, developing a pilot model for all our programs.

Second, we understand that educational advancement is a critical pathway for all Maine people.

Recognizing that too few of our young people are pursuing post-secondary education, we have initiated or expanded several early college programs including Bridge Year and UMFK’s Rural U program that now partners with 46 high schools and is on schedule to increase that number to more than half of all public Maine high schools by this fall. An outstanding innovation announced just this past Friday is the agreement between the University of Maine at Presque Isle and the Maine School of Science and Mathematics to launch a dual degree program that will be Maine’s fastest and most affordable path to a college diploma. MSSM students will be able to earn a 63-credit Associates Degree from UMPI at the same time as they receive their high school diploma. This degree will cost less than $1,000 and give students a two-year head start towards earning their bachelor’s degree.

You may recall that more than 200,000 Mainers have some college experience but no degree. This is a stranded cost both financially and in terms of human potential that Maine cannot afford. With funding provided by the Legislature, this past fall we initiated the ABCDE scholarship program to assist Maine people returning to university to complete their degrees. We work 1-on-1 with these individuals, creating a multi-year study plan crafted to their circumstances in order to optimize their chances for success. In just these first few months we have awarded 147 scholarships totaling over $300,000, and this is just the beginning.

To see the impact of this initiative more directly, I would like to introduce two adult learners who are back in class at UMA with the support of ABCDE scholarships.

Tanya Look is a veteran of the Maine National Guard with a disability sustained during service.  A transfer from Central Maine Community College where she earned an Associate Degree in Architectural Civil Engineering, she is in college for the first time since 2011. Ms Look is pursuing a Bachelor of Applied Science with a Minor in Art and anticipates graduating in May of 2017. She is raising a family in Wilton and following graduation aspires to a career in the field of engineering – an area of known state needs – so she can advance her career while staying in Maine.

Raymond “Scott” Berry is a 52-year old husband and father from Manchester who is pursuing a Bachelors of Science degree in Business Administration.  He returned to class in the fall of 2014 after almost ten years away from college because of family and work obligations as well as financial constraints.  Mr. Berry was inspired to return to class by his children’s educational ambitions and accomplishments, as well as his understanding that a bachelor’s degree is a key to advancement.  He currently works as a facilities manager with a local non-profit and, after this semester and completion of a Prior Learning Assessment portfolio, Mr. Berry should be just one class away from completing his degree.

Ms Look’s and Mr. Berry’s drive and initiative are two Maine success stories. Please join me in congratulating them, confirming our common commitment to advancing opportunities for all Maine people through education.

Yet even with all these causes for celebration, much more is required. We remain far from where we must be if we are to fulfill our mission in a financially responsible and sustainable way. It is time to heed the calls for transformative change coming from any number of internal analyses, editorials, and blue-ribbon commissions stretching back decades. We know what must be done – now it is time to act.

 

ONE UNIVERSITY FOR ALL OF MAINE

Last year, the Trustees endorsed the following vision statement to guide change.

The University of Maine System is an integrated system of distinct campuses, centers, and other facilities operating in concert to provide high-quality educational undergraduate and graduate opportunities that are accessible, affordable, and relevant to the needs of Maine students, businesses, and communities. It drives economic development by conducting world-class research, commercializing valuable ideas, and partnering successfully with businesses and industries throughout Maine and beyond. It is the state’s most engaged and responsive institution working on behalf of all Maine citizens, communities, and institutions. It is Maine’s most important public asset.

In July, the Board adopted a set of Strategic Outcomes to realize this vision. To achieve those outcomes, the Trustees set a goal of one university for all of Maine: a fully integrated university with multiple mission-differentiated campuses.

The One University Initiative has three major components:

  1. Strategic unity through campus diversity
  2. Administrative reduction and reform
  3. Academic collaboration and integration

Strategic Unity through Campus Diversity

The Trustees remain fully committed to the multi-campus model. Our institutions are an integral part of the communities and regions they serve. Closing them, moreover, would unacceptably compromise our statewide mission.

Our campuses are united in a common mission of service to our students and the state. This unified mission of service is best achieved through campus diversity, and each of our campuses is working to identify signature programs and services that build on that institution’s strengths and mandate. These signature differentiators give each institution competitive advantage as well as a focus for planning, investment and growth. They reflect, to cite just three examples, the historical role UMF has played in teacher education, how Machias will build on its location and environmental focus, and the ways USM’s Metropolitan University will position that institution as a key partner in the economic and demographic driver that is greater Portland and Lewiston-Auburn. By coordinating all seven sets of campus differentiators across the enterprise, we will ensure that critical educational, research and public service needs are met both locally and statewide.

Administrative reduction and reform

Maintaining the multi-campus model requires that UMS dramatically reduce and reform all administrative functions into a single, integrated administrative structure appropriate to our mission and resources.

In addition to the Chancellor’s office, UMS currently has seven universities spread over ten campuses, each with a full administrative staff, serving a student body of approximately 30,000 – the size of a single public university in some midwestern states.  While remaining committed to the multi-campus model, our administration is too costly, and its complex, redundant structures stifle cooperation and innovation.

We will create a single, integrated administrative structure for the entire System by organizing and funding each administrative function as a single, albeit geographically distributed unit. For example, there will be one HR function with a single set of back-office resources and enough representation at each campus to serve staff and students.

Some of this work is already underway and paying dividends. Next year’s budget reflects nearly $5MM in on-going savings due to administrative integration in IT, HR, and Procurement. Later this spring the Trustees will approve a new unified financial management structure to enhance this process, and later in the year we will close the System Central Office in Bangor, moving administrative employees to campuses where they will be closer to those they serve while reducing our facilities footprint.

Each of our institutions will continue to have a president who remains responsible for their institution’s success as a member of the executive team. The role of the campus Board of Visitors will be expanded to ensure local needs are adequately represented in key decision processes.

Academic collaboration and integration

The third component involves academic collaboration. Working with faculty and staff to coordinate and integrate our academic and research programs, we will ensure these programs are innovative, high-quality, and adequately resourced; that every Maine student has access to those programs for which he or she is qualified; and that university research continues to advance Maine economic growth and opportunity.

The University of Maine System benefits from hundreds of gifted faculty dedicated to their profession and their students, but whose efforts are also constrained by campus and bureaucratic silos. Teams of faculty and staff from across our campuses are breaking down those barriers, re-thinking how best to organize and deliver the best educational experience for all students wherever they may be. This January, more than 130-faculty met to begin work on nine programs, from foreign languages to engineering, taking the lead in developing this game-changing initiative that will eventually involve all our disciplines.

Here is an early and resoundingly successful example of what this process can accomplish. This past fall the University of Maine System was designated a Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance / Cyber Defense by the National Security Agency / Department of Homeland Security. No individual Maine institution has the resources or expertise to achieve this designation by itself, but by working collaboratively, faculty from four of our campuses created a unified program which earned Maine the nation’s first ever multi-campus, system designation in this field. And this designation is not just a matter of academic prestige. By our achieving this designation, Maine students are eligible for major scholarships and opportunities closed to all others, Maine researchers can compete for grants and contracts closed to all others, and Maine businesses will benefit from having national-class employees with certified expertise in this critical and growing part of our economy. It is my pleasure to introduce Professors Raymond Albert of the University of Maine at Fort Kent, Glenn Wilson of the University of Southern Maine, George Markowsky of UMaine, and Henry Felch of the University of Maine at Augusta whose collective vision, creativity, and expertise has secured this opportunity, and whose work is an outstanding example of what we can accomplish when we work together.

The opportunities that will emerge with the One University are what matters most. Every Maine student – traditional and non-traditional – has a place in this University: the student nurse committed to rural healthcare, the gifted high-school student who wants to study in one of the nation’s premier chemical engineering programs, the young person struggling to see how education will better his or her life, and the mid-career professional looking to increase his or her chances for advancement.

A core part of our mission remains research, an area of ever more increasing importance in today’s economy. We will continue cutting-edge research centered at our UMaine flagship (whose 150th anniversary we celebrate this year), with an increased emphasis in work supporting Maine business and industries, whether in expanding high-tech areas such as biotechnology or information systems, or in research that advances our natural resource-based industries in wood products, energy, agriculture and the marine economy. To catalyze this effort, the Trustees have approved a new, 5 year, $10MM reallocation of funds saved from administrative consolidations to support statewide research in ways that tie directly to Maine’s economy.

 

CONCLUSION

The actions I have outlined today speak to our commitment to ensuring a quality, affordable education is available for all Maine families. But we need your help. The Governor’s proposed budget contains the largest new investment in the university system in seven years, including a 1.7% and 1.93% increase in general appropriations over the next biennium (approval of which would restore state E&G funding to 2008 levels), $2.5MM per year in debt service coverage for critical infrastructure improvements, an increase in MEIF funding to underwrite research tied to Maine’s economy, and much needed student scholarships. This measure of support is critical and very much appreciated. I hope you will approve it.

We are building a greater partnership with Maine families, businesses, and communities based on access, affordability, quality, relevance and responsiveness. Our commitment to that partnership is second to none. The changes I have outlined today will require hard choices and hard work. But we will be successful, where our success is measured by the success of Maine people. It is that important and that simple.   Thank you.