Tuesday, January 23rd, 2018

Invest in USM: we all can help our school’s future

Posted on September 29, 2014 in Perspectives
By USM Free Press

By Lydia Savage

What should the University of Southern Maine be? The USM Board of Visitors concluded in 2000, after an extensive survey of the community, that “the University of Southern Maine must become one of the top-ranked public, regional, comprehensive universities in the United States in the quality, breadth and the accessibility of its academic programs. The people of this region and the businesses and institutions that must compete in the knowledge-based, global economy of the 21st century require and deserve nothing less than such an educational resource.” (A Southern Maine Imperative [2000]).

The USM envisioned by our own Board of Visitors is “a high quality, first-choice institution” able both to “significantly expand academic programs [that are] needed regionally in science and technology as well as in graduate and professional fields” and to “enhance its broad range of liberal arts and humanities programs [that are] central to a solid undergraduate education and the intellectual needs of the region’s learners.”

The USM budget situation may since have changed, but the local situation has only improved.  The Board of Visitors reiterated in A Southern Maine Imperative II (2009) that Greater Portland is increasingly attractive to business investors and requires a primary educational institution that will sustain its major role within the Maine economy. How do we ensure that USM becomes that asset?

Investors of all kinds are putting their money into the Greater Portland and Southern Maine region — businesses, hotels, restaurants, performance venues for music and theater — at the same time that USM is being reduced in size and scope. Magazine after magazine has identified Greater Portland as one of the top 10 places to live in the nation, with its robust economy and enviable quality of life.

USM has contributed significantly to this growth. How much more would it contribute if the university was made more accessible and attractive to local students and those students from away, if investments were made in USM, out-of-state and international tuition rates were reduced, more scholarships were offered, and a wide range of academic programs and opportunities were available?

All of us at USM are deeply concerned about the impact that budget cuts will have. While the rest of the University of Maine System faces similar issues, USM will be especially hard hit and is looking at unprecedented cuts that will fundamentally alter the university.

As a state senator recently wrote to me, “The challenge seems to be transcending the budget imbalances of the present without sacrificing the vision of future possibilities.” USM’s future “has to be based on a vision of where we want to end up that is both inspiring and financially sustainable.”

With so much at stake, we strongly believe that the time is now for our USM community of educators, staff, scholars, alumni and students to join together with business and community leaders, elected officials, innovators, entrepreneurs —  a broad range of stakeholders — to discuss and find opportunities for investments in USM.

We are building a coalition — Invest in USM. This USM movement already comprises a significant number of community members, alumni, students, staff and faculty from across Southern Maine. We are collaborating on this vital initiative to invest and grow for success, reflecting the energy and momentum of the cities and the communities where USM is located.

We must all invest in USM if it is to grow and thrive and further fuel the engine of economic and societal growth in our region. Investment can mean so many important things aside from financial support — time, energy, ideas, experience, opportunities — so we all have a chance to contribute to Invest in USM.