Trustees of the University of Maine System got an update this week regarding the financial and programmatic health of the state’s seven university campuses and its online and distance-learning initiative called University College.
Last year, projected budget shortfalls to the tune of $42.8 million prompted administrators to reevaluate the management and academic structures of the Maine system. At its November 2009 meeting, the board of trustees endorsed a broad-based plan that sought systemwide financial sustainability by 2013. System chancellor Richard L. Pattenaude discussed the plan on the NEBHE website in June.
At this year’s meeting, trustees were presented with a “newly updated multiyear financial plan” outlining scenarios leading to a balanced budget and sustainability for the system in five years. Officials in the chancellor’s office praised the seven Maine campuses for helping in this effort; institutional leaders this year have identified cost savings totaling about $5 million.
Many of these efficiencies and reductions have cost jobs. The system, in an effort to cut spending, has reduced its total workforce by 6% over the past three years. Facing a $5.9 million shortfall, the University of Maine alone trimmed more than 52 FTE positions, though few of those reductions were outright layoffs.
The elimination of many adjunct faculty positions may have also led to spikes in faculty teaching loads and class sizes, and hampered student access to certain courses, as sections were eliminated. Proposed spring cutbacks reportedly threatened the existence of the French department (among others) at the University of Maine, and trustees this week approved the elimination of two bachelor of science degrees in secondary education at the University of Maine at Fort Kent. Academic programs at Maine campuses, according to Pattenaude, must pass the “12/5 rule”—meaning that any class with fewer than 12 students and any department with fewer than five majors must defend its continued funding.
Some UMaine System priorities are growing, however. For example, distance and online education credit hours increased this year (at annual rates of 8.5% and 27%, respectively) and community college transfers into the system are up 12% over last year.