Maine’s Public Universities Take Historic Step to Unify Their Accreditations in the University of Maine System

Board unanimously endorses first-in-the-nation step to accredit all of Maine’s public universities together for how well they share public resources in service to students and the state

Orono, Maine — The University of Maine System Board of Trustees has unanimously approved a recommendation first brought forward by Chancellor Dannel Malloy last fall to transition the separate institutional accreditations of Maine’s public universities into a unified institutional accreditation for the University of Maine System through the New England Commission on HIgher Education (NECHE). The transition to unified accreditation includes a commitment to maintaining Maine’s universities where they currently exist and offers expanded opportunities for them to share academic programs, resources, and practices to more effectively serve students in meeting the System’s public mission of teaching, research, and public service in Maine.

For the first time in the nation, all of a state’s public universities will be evaluated based on how well they share state resources in meeting standards of accreditation that establish criteria for institutional quality and higher education effectiveness.

“The University of Maine System Board of Trustees has taken an important step to ensure that the University of Maine System and its seven Universities can best serve the people of Maine individually and collectively,” said Dr. Barbara Brittingham, President of NECHE. “The Commission looks forward to working with the System and the Universities on unified accreditation.”

Moving to a unified accreditation is a reform that has been under consideration since the formation of the University of Maine System in 1968.  The endorsement of the unified accreditation recommendation culminates many years of productive collaborations with NECHE focused on delivering high quality public education in a transitioning higher education industry and more than a year of focused strategic and leadership succession planning by the Board of Trustees.  The Board approved a Declaration of Strategic Priorities in December 2018 to expedite and guide higher education reform in Maine.

“Innovation and collaboration will determine Maine’s place in the world and its capacity to meet the needs of its citizens and communities,” said James Erwin, Chair of the UMS Board of Trustees.  “Public education has to lead the way, upskilling more Mainers with the tools and talent needed for success by providing flexible, life-long access to relevant, 21st Century learning. We must also bring new resources to bear for Maine through research that leads to discovery and attracts new investment to our state.

“Maine believes in and depends on its public universities.  The Board commends the transparency, community-wide engagement, and trust that has been developed as we have considered how unifying our accreditation can support our key priorities.”

Guiding Principles and a Campaign of Participation

In July the Board of Trustees charged Chancellor Malloy at his first Board meeting to report back on options for accreditation that would support significantly more multi-campus academic programs while adhering to NECHE standards.  In September the Board accepted the Chancellor’s report and further directed the Chancellor to develop a campus-engaged recommendation to unify accreditation for the University of Maine System.

The Chancellor and university presidents collaborated on a set of guiding principles to serve as a road map for engagement, plan development, and the transition from separate institutional accreditations to a unified institutional accreditation for the University of Maine System.  Principles include a commitment to keeping universities where they currently exist, adhering to collective bargaining agreements, and the assurance that faculty will continue their shared governance role in academic policy and curriculum development at the System level.

With the guiding principles in place the Chancellor kicked off a “campaign of participation” that included 46 town halls and discussions with the university community.  He also established a Unified Accreditation website to post historic documentation on accreditation issues, to communicate openly with stakeholders, and to respond directly to questions.

“Our recommendation to unify our accreditations was developed through participation rather than persuasion,” said Chancellor Malloy.  “We visited each campus at least three times, held hundreds of conversations, and, when questions were asked, we responded the very next day.

“We have a lot more work to do, but we already know what matters most.  The Guiding Principles developed by the presidents and I commit us to our existing agreements, our campus locations, and the critical role faculty must play in academic governance and curriculum development.  Over the next two years we will work with our colleagues at NECHE and together and transparently across our proud universities to unify our accreditations in pursuit of academic excellence and student opportunity and success.”

A Two Year Transition

The resolution adopted by the Board directs the Chancellor and the UMS University Presidents to prepare and submit a substantive change application to NECHE to transition the current separate UMS university institutional accreditations to a unified accreditation for the System, covering all of its universities, by June 30, 2020.

Upon approving the substantive change request NECHE will determine further steps to evaluate the System’s quality and effectiveness in its transition to unified accreditation.  These steps could include a confirming visit within six months and a comprehensive evaluation within two years.

Chancellor Malloy has established an Academic and Student Affairs / Advising Committee and Finance, Administration, and Student Support Services Committee to oversee this work.  The panels will be headed by University and System leadership and include representation from all seven universities, The Chancellor will also co-convene a Unified Accreditation Coordinating Council along with Chief of Staff and General Counsel Jim Thelen. Finally, faculty senate and assembly leaders will work to develop System-wide academic governance policies.

Statements of Support

Terry W. Hartle, Senior Vice President, Government Relations and Public Affairs, American Council on Education:“The University of Maine System’s innovative proposal to unify accreditation for all of its universities is a bold and timely idea,” said Terry W. Hartle, senior vice president for Government and Public Affairs at the American Council on Education.  “This win-win initiative will provide more and better educational opportunities for students and make more effective use of scarce resources for the state’s taxpayers.”

Sally Johnstone and Aims McGuinness, National Center for Higher Education Management Systems:  “State systems of higher education have a stronger role than ever to assure the needs of learners are met in ways that reflect state realities and are fiscally sustainable. The University of Maine System’s Board of Trustees has taken a bold step only after giving careful attention to the processes leading to shaping implementation.”

Statement of the UMS Student Representatives to the Board of Trustees, January 27, 2020

Statement of the UMPI Student Government Association, January 27, 2020