We’ve all heard about the budget problems that USM is going through. It’s affected almost every area of campus life. Many classes have been cut or turned into online classes. Staff and faculty have been laid off. The USM administration isn’t even willing to acknowledge the passage of the student referendum seeking a vote on the smoking ban.
There are two big reasons for the lack of available money for the university. Firstly, the state hasn’t increased the funding for the University of Maine System (UMS). The costs of running a university rise faster than other costs in the economy (if you’re interested in the reason why, google “Baumol’s cost disease”). If costs are rising and funding isn’t, the effect is the same as if funding were cut.
Secondly, enrollment has been declining. Between 2000 and 2011, enrollment has decreased 11%. The biggest part of that decline, according to the university, has been in students who take classes without the intention of graduating; those students are increasingly turning to community colleges. What’s more, USM’s traditional target demographic—Maine residents aged 15 to 24—is expected to shrink by nearly 20 percent between 2010 and 2020.
An important part of this discussion is that the UMS has a reserve fund of $177 million (up from $88 million in 2009). Critics of the budget cuts argue, justifiably, that the reserve fund is a rainy day fund and that the UMS’s current budget is a downpour. However, the guardians of that fund—the Board of Trustees—say the money is needed for infrastructural repairs, pointing out that 69 percent of the buildings in the UMS are over 25 years old and repairs have been put off for years.
So, what choices does USM have? Not many. At least, not unless the Board of Trustees decides to tap the reserve fund, and they’ve made it clear that’s not something they’re willing to do. That just leaves the issue of enrollment; given the decline of their traditional target demographic, USM has chosen to step up its recruitment of non-traditional students, hence all of the “finish your degree” posters in Abromson.
What can you do? If you haven’t, declare a major. Departments around campus are measured by the number of majors they have. More majors equals more breathing room and fewer classes cut. Secondly, get involved with student organizations. USM aside, do it for self-serving reasons: student groups are able to spend $250 per student per event. That’s money on the table waiting for you, and stronger student groups mean a stronger USM. Also, intern. USM is working to step up its internship programs, so take advantage and build your resume.
Most importantly, remember that we’re going to get through this. USM students, staff and faculty are still accomplishing great things every day, and that’s something that can’t be cut from the budget.
This piece was contributed by Will Gattis – Vice-chair of the Student Senate and president of USM Students of Economic Interest