A Year of Continued Progress — and One Like No Other
As the University of Southern Maine reaches new accomplishments in its pursuit of academic excellence, career opportunities for students, and a student-centered culture, now is a good time to reflect on the many successes of the past year. These successes derive directly from the work of faculty and staff on behalf of our students, the citizens of Maine, and Husky Nation at large.
Advancing the Strategic Goals of the University of Maine System, as well as USM’s Ten Goals, our faculty and staff enhanced our institutional reputation, maximized conditions for student success, and continued to create opportunities for students to achieve rewarding career outcomes. As our System moves closer together, academically, new opportunities to serve the students of Maine will continue to emerge.
Perhaps most impressive, the USM community met the challenges of a global pandemic with poise, resiliency, and no small amount of patience. Our faculty swiftly and successfully implemented new modes of teaching. Our staff identified creative solutions for providing compassionate service to students. And the students themselves demonstrated extraordinary persistence and strength in pursuit of their academic passions and career goals.
In the midst of this unprecedented upheaval, we achieved continued enrollment growth in key areas, a balanced fiscal position, ongoing reductions in student debt, significant philanthropic success, monumental progress with USM's largest capital construction project, and numerous other indicators of a vibrant and strong university.
Some of What We Achieved in the Past Year
USM’s recognition in this year’s U.S. News & World Report rankings — as an overall top public school, for social mobility, and for its strong engineering program — highlight USM’s rising stature in the Northeast and throughout the country.
USM tied for 50th place among the Top Public Regional Universities in the Northern United States. We tied for 80th place among Regional Universities in the Northern U.S. for Social Mobility. We also placed 123rd nationwide for Best Undergraduate Engineering Programs.
Our success in all of these areas reflects our progress in delivering strong advising and career development programming to students as well as our continuing debt-reduction efforts that make a USM education more affordable. For its Social Mobility rankings, U.S. News & World Report recognizes schools that enroll and graduate significant proportions of Pell Grant-eligible students. The vast majority of these federal grants are awarded to students with family incomes under $50,000. Student debt is also a contributing factor in a university’s ability to help students realize upward social mobility. This past year marks five consecutive years of debt reduction for USM students. In 2020, the average USM undergraduate student graduated with $23,713 in debt, which is a reduction of nearly $3,000 from 2018 and a reduction of more than $4,600 since 2015. The average USM undergraduate student will graduate with about $5,500 less in debt, which is 18 percent below the national average.
Recognition at this level is a tremendous honor and shows how our dedication to being student focused everyday and our commitment to delivering academic excellence and affordability have yielded positive results.
Unprecedented Philanthropic Investments
I’m deeply moved and grateful to report that the generosity of donors continues to make an impact on our students and their growing financial challenges during the pandemic.
The Harold Alfond Foundation's historic gift of $240 Million to the University of Maine System includes significant allocations for USM. Chief among those infusions of resources are:
$55 million for the Maine Graduate and Professional Center
For constructing a state-of-the-art building on USM’s Portland campus to house the Maine Graduate and Professional Center programs, to serve as a center for collaboration and engagement, and to help grow and strengthen Maine’s economy
For supporting scholarships and integrated program development across business, law, public policy, and graduate engineering programs
And $75 million for a multi-university partnership in Engineering, Computing and Information Science
For providing additional undergraduate engineering programs at USM, UMaine graduate engineering programs offered in Portland, expanded pathways into the partnership from all UMS universities, new opportunities for shared programs, interdisciplinary structures and partnerships, and further renovations to UMaine’s engineering education infrastructure alongside the Ferland Engineering Education and Design Center currently under construction.
- For launching a new USM degree program in industrial engineering as a complement to our historically strong programs in electrical and mechanical engineering that many Maine businesses rely upon for skilled employees
As a result of the USM Foundation's efforts, 740 members of the USM community raised more than $120,000 into the Student Emergency Fund, which can help students with medical, dental, or mental health emergency expenses that are not covered by insurance, travel in the case of the death or illness of an immediate family member, and books, fees, or other school-related expenses that were not anticipated.
The USM Foundation secured a record number of leadership-level donors in FY20: 281 members of the President's Circle donated at least $1,000 in support of our University and students. This represents a 7 percent increase over last year.
The USM Foundation also received several major gifts, including contributions focused on supporting veterans and helping them complete their degrees (a total of $600,000, including a $500,000 gift from Joe and Sheri Boulos), expanding USM’s Nursing Program to address Maine’s critical shortage ($2 million, including a $1 million anonymous pledge and a $1 million bequest intention), and the building of a new Career and Student Success Center ($1 million from an anonymous donor).
And in the second year of a new USM Senior Class Gift tradition, the Class of 2020 surpassed their fundraising goal and raised 22 percent more over the previous year in support of the Student Emergency Fund — all in the middle of a pandemic.
The Harold Alfond Foundation’s commitment, together with several large, recent gifts from alumni and friends, clearly signals that we have entered a new era of philanthropic investment and donor confidence at USM. These gifts will catalyze not only more opportunities for USM students, but also more investments in the University. Over the coming months, USM Foundation President and CEO Ainsley Wallace and I look forward to sharing more exciting announcements about new levels of generosity from our many loyal supporters.
A Narrow E&G Budget Surplus
USM is one of only two campuses within the System to submit a balanced budget for this year without the use of E&G reserves. In these circumstances and thanks to thoughtful savings many faculty and staff across campus helped with, we finished FY20 with a narrow E&G budget surplus after facing a considerable deficit in the spring. This was due to the spending restraints we implemented in March, which were then adopted System-wide. Preserving resources in FY20 puts us in a better position as we enter FY21, which we anticipate will be a challenging year.
Promising Enrollment Highlights To Build On
Summer enrollment reached a five-year high, with 3,635 undergraduate and graduate headcounts enrolled in both summer terms. This has resulted in a 13 percent increase in overall credit hours over last summer — even with the shift to all online.
New graduate enrollments are up 35 percent overall this fall (resulting in 153 more students) and almost all of that growth comes from a 173 percent increase in new graduate enrollments of out-of-state students. We’re now looking at more than 144 out-of-state graduate students over last fall.
This growth in graduate student enrollment is helping to offset a dip we are seeing among in-state students in the new class of first-year and transfer students at the undergraduate level. We continue to improve our undergraduate enrollment through an aggressive plan that includes marketing the Welcome Home Transfer Offer, issuing earlier admission and financial aid packages, and providing personalized and strategic outreach to students at high schools that traditionally send high numbers of students to USM.
This fall, we awarded incoming and returning USM students who have been serving in first-responder roles or providing front-line critical services during the pandemic an opportunity to apply for our distinctive First Responders-Essential Workers Scholarship. We awarded 50 scholarships of $1,000 each to 45 undergraduates and five graduate-level students.
Our Faculty's Strong Commitment to Create Conditions for Success
The efforts of our faculty to keep our students engaged with the learning process this past spring were monumental.
In response to USM’s rapid transition to remote learning in the spring, USM faculty showed amazing creativity and resilience in solving difficult instructional challenges. Our Center for Technology Enhanced Learning (CTEL) was integral to helping our faculty make this sudden adjustment. CTEL quickly put in place a variety of guided practice workshops and tutorials for faculty on how to maintain engagement with students using technology. Over the course of the spring semester, several hundred USM faculty worked with CTEL staff, participating in small group Zoom practice sessions, open Q&A sessions, and a variety of focused workshops.
For the fall semester, roughly 65 percent of USM’s courses are being held online, and all faculty are preparing to transition to 100 percent remote instruction if needed. CTEL’s focus is on helping faculty develop high quality, engaging online and blended courses and learn how to be successful with the new Brightspace platform. CTEL has trained 299 faculty in the use of Brightspace through 20 half-day live training sessions, and 237 faculty were engaged in 8-week Flexible Course Design Working Groups. Led by CTEL Learning Designers and 16 faculty mentors, these groups bring experienced online faculty and Learning Designers together to share effective practices in online teaching and learning and support each other as they learn to use the Brightspace platform. As one participant observed, “Our workgroup is a total game-changer and is making my ability to teach well online next fall possible.”
In addition to the coming new degree in Industrial Engineering at USM, we're delighted the UMS Board of Trustees approved our proposal to offer an undergraduate degree program in Elementary Education.
As much as excellent teaching is at the heart of student retention and success, so too is skilled advising. This year, USM’s advising efforts received deserved praise when Provost Jeannine Uzzi was selected as the recipient of the Michael C. Holen Pacesetter Award from NACADA, the National Academic Advising Association. The Holen Pacesetter Award is part of the 2020 Global Awards Program for Academic Advising and recognizes Executive Officers, Provosts, and Academic or Student Affairs Officers who exemplify a commitment to academic advising and are true advocates for advising, students, and advisors across their institution. If you ask Provost Uzzi about the award, she will tell you she received it on behalf of the members of USM’s Advising Team, who are deeply committed to student success and connecting students to academic paths that help them reach their intellectual interests and career goals.
Our coaches and student-athletes may have lost their opportunities to compete this past spring, but that didn’t diminish their success in the classroom. Our student-athletes achieved an average overall GPA of 3.3 in spring 2020. For the 2019–2020 academic year, USM's entire population of student-athletes achieved an average overall GPA of 3.23, up significantly from the previous year's overall high of 3.09. I applaud our student-athletes for the strength of their academic performance, especially during the challenges of remote learning. I know the support they receive from our dedicated coaching faculty and staff plays an important part in their success.
There are also many unsung and unquantified achievements — things done behind the scenes and often out of sight — that deserve recognition. Our Facilities Management team worked tirelessly over the summer to reconfigure campus spaces by removing some furniture and appropriately spacing classroom desks. They also have installed hand-sanitizer stations, signage to direct foot traffic in ways to keep us at safer distances, and — in some areas where faculty and staff traditionally serve students in close proximity — Plexiglas barriers.
Our Registrar’s Office worked diligently to solve the shifting puzzle of where to seat our students and faculty in these circumstances that require more space between us. The Housing and Residential Life Teams faced similar challenges with where to safely place students to maintain a sense of community while still limiting contact and interactions to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. And few people have been as sought after as Lisa Belanger, our director of health services, who has worked with the System to implement our asymptomatic testing regime — a months-long project with many, many challenging logistics to consider.
All of these successes and all of these preparations done in service to our students would not have been possible without the commitment and dedication of our faculty and staff under extraordinary circumstances. I know that summer is supposed to be a time of regrouping, reflection, planning for the year ahead — and taking some well-deserved time away. I know summer 2020 was not that kind of summer. That’s why the Cabinet and I are all the more grateful that you have done what has needed to be done for the students and the continued success of the University.
I say this with an understanding of what you have been through and the deepest appreciation for your dedication: Thank you.
What We Will Achieve in the Coming Years
All of the successes of the past year underscore an important truth: We can prevail and even progress in a time of tremendous challenges. In the midst of the unprecedented upheaval, the Cabinet and I continued to chart the University’s course for the next five years through a rigorous process of strategic planning.
During the 2018–2019 academic year, the members of Cabinet and I worked with the academic deans to discuss challenges for USM. I asked our leadership team to identify the “next mountain USM needed to climb,” and this led to thoughtful discussions about our academic excellence and the framework that would lead to further success in this area of the University.
To move USM forward in a more strategic direction, the USM community worked to create written hallmarks of our culture. You can review the details of “USM: The Next Five Years," which is a draft of our main priorities to begin the discussion among members of the campus community. Over the past two years, the leadership team developed and shared the following with the USM community: Service Promise & Values, An Institutional Motto, Vision 2028/Academic Pillars, and a Vision & Mission Statement. This work involved the engagement of students, faculty, and staff at USM, and it became the foundation for the strategic map and priorities for the Cabinet as they began work on the USM: The Next Five Years in the fall of 2019.
During the late spring and early summer of 2020, Nancy Griffin, Special Assistant to the President for Strategic Development, and I, conducted interviews with members of the UMS Board of Trustees, USM Board of Visitors, and key state government leaders. A briefing report was sent to each person who was interviewed, providing an overview of the goals and direction for USM (past, present, and future). Each interviewer provided feedback on the direction of USM. The notes from these interviews were shared with the Cabinet in early August and the USM: The Next Five Years (2020–2025) document was shared with the USM community as part of the virtual Opening Breakfast program on August 27, 2020. During the fall semester, a University-wide steering committee is engaged with reworking the draft and continues to provide input/feedback on the Five Priorities.
These are ambitious plans to commit to in challenging times, but the needs of our students, our three campus communities, and the citizens of Maine deserve the fulfillment of these priorities. The Cabinet and I look forward to working with you to achieve these goals and organizing our work and outcomes so they support our success in all of these areas.
Regarding the near term, I am confident that if we continue to do what we have done so well over the spring and summer — that is collectively pull together and find the solutions that are needed to move forward — then we will succeed in delivering on our service promise to be student-focused every day. And we will continue, even in these challenging circumstances, to help students realize their dreams by providing them with exceptional learning experiences in and out of the classroom.
Thank you for all your individual and collective accomplishments and the work you have done in service to our students and the University this past year. As evinced by this report, your efforts resulted in significant growth and impact on the lives of our students. Please accept my heartfelt appreciation.
Glenn Cummings, Ed.D.