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USM begins 2018-2019 academic year with surging numbers and rededication to academics

The University of Southern Maine begins its 2018-2019 academic year with increasing financial stability, a rededication to academics and surging student numbers, President Glenn Cummings said Aug. 30 at the annual opening breakfast.

“We are making enormous progress in all fronts,” Cummings said.

“In a two-year period, we’ve had a 6.2 percent increase in our retention,” he said. “More students are staying with us.”

And students who graduate are leaving with far more favorable opinion of the university. In 2015, as budgets and positions were being cut, only 61 percent of graduates said they would recommend USM. With USM’s Class of 2018, that number skyrocketed to 94 percent.

“Even in the most elite little bubbles of higher education, you rarely get that,” Cummings said. “What does that tell you? Whatever we’re doing, it is making a difference for those who are succeeding. Our challenge is that more students need to succeed and get to that diploma.”

The announcement was cheered by the hundreds of USM faculty and staff who attended the breakfast, held at the field house in the Costello Sports Complex on the Gorham Campus.

President Cummings also announced that USM finances had reached a milestone. The school now has reserves of about $10 million. It’s not quite the ideal level of $14 million recommended by accountants, but it is far from the projected deficits of a few years ago.

To learn more about President Glenn Cummings, check out his recent hour-long interview with Portland Press Herald CEO and Publisher Lisa DeSisto.

Provost Jeannine Uzzi unveiled a new academic vision for the university with four pillars of excellence: a focus on relationships, a future forward curriculum, the integration of learning and work and a mission of service and citizenship.

“Fostering excellence is something that does take time,” she said. “It also takes resources, principles and perseverance. There is no better way to symbolize our renewed focus on academic excellence than to return to one of USM’s proudest traditions: naming our next distinguished professor.”

The title is one of the highest honors for tenured faculty, awarded to those who have achieved national and international recognition for their scholarship, teaching and service. Past distinguished professors Mark Lapping, Joseph Conforti, Kathleen Ashley and Robert Louden were honored on stage and joined by new honoree James Messerschmidt.

“Professor James Messerschmidt is a prolific scholar, widely recognized for exploring the link between crime and gender,” Uzzi said. “And his insights have crucial implications for national policy and social justice.”

President Cummings implored USM faculty and staff to keep working towards the slogan, “Student focused every day.”

“We are changing the world,” Cummings said, “We are so blessed to have the mission we have and that is our goal.”