MACHIAS — The University of Maine at Machias is a work in progress, its leaders say.
In March 2016, amid declining enrollment and increasing financial pressures, University of Maine officials decided to form a “primary partnership” between UMM and the larger University of Maine system. In short, the two institutions would merge resources such as marketing and administration in an effort to increase enrollment and efficiency.
UMM, once a regional anchor university, has become a regional campus of the University of Maine, operating under the same budget as the wider state university system rather than under its own, separate spending plan.
In announcing the decision in April 2016, university officials said UMM was not financially or operationally viable.
“Despite UMM’s best efforts, it has taken the University of Maine System financial reserves to maintain fiscal stability, growing from $402,183 in fiscal year 2012 to more than $1 million today,” says a press release from the university dated April 5, 2016.
The same release described UMM as an “anchor institution” that provides “critical educational and career pathways, its applied research has significant statewide impact, and through its community engagement it plays an essential role in the social, economic and cultural well-being of Downeast Maine.”
University of Maine President Joan Ferrini-Mundy and Chancellor Dannel Malloy said last week the changes have been for the better.
“We understand the significance [UMM] plays in the county,” Malloy said.
Ferrini-Mundy said UMM financials are “improving slowly. It’s very dependent on how our enrollments are.”
The University of Maine System Spring 2019 Enrollment Report shows that enrollment at UMM has dropped by 14.9 percent since spring of 2015. However, it dropped only 1.8 percent between 2018 and 2019, from 675 to 663 students.
The largest decline over the past five years was from 2015 to 2016 — at the same time university officials were formulating plans for the change. That year, enrollment declined by 64 students, from 779 in 2015 to 715 in 2016.
Ferrini-Mundy described the process of reversing the enrollment trend as a “long-term activity,” adding, “This is not something that will happen in a year.”
Malloy said all of New England is seeing declining numbers of high school graduates, which means a smaller pool of incoming freshmen for colleges and universities. This is especially true in Maine, where the population is aging.
By the Numbers
University of Maine at Machias
Spring 2015 — 779
Spring 2016 — 715
Spring 2017 — 716
Spring 2018 — 675
Spring 2019 —663
Percent change over one year -1.8%
Over five years -14.9%
UMM credit hours
Spring 2015: 7,448
Spring 2016: 7,059
Spring 2017: 6,843
Spring 2018: 6,501
Spring 2019: 6,208
Down -4.5% from a year ago
Down -16.7% from five years ago
“We have a lot of people in our system who are not beginning their education with us at the age of 17,” Malloy said.
As a result, the university has had to make sure its offerings target not only traditional students but also older and part-time students. Currently, UMM’s enrollment is almost evenly split, with 51.9 percent of students studying only part time and the other 48.1 percent having full-time status. Some students attend for awhile and then take a break before returning, Malloy said.
UMM has partnered with the Community Caring Collaborative to offer Family Futures Downeast, a one-year program designed to create access to education and employment opportunities for parents with young children.
Noting that Family Futures Downeast has gotten a lot of accolades and national attention, Ferrini-Mundy and Malloy said they’d like to see it implemented on other University of Maine campuses.
Success won’t come just from special programs, however. The university system is working to attract more students through an improved curriculum, Ferrini-Mundy and Malloy said. UMM students have traditionally sought additional opportunities in Orono, but the reverse has not been true. Emphasis now is on finding ways for Orono students to broaden their educational experiences in Machias.
Marine science programs, long a UMM staple, will continue but new programs are being added, Ferrini-Mundy and Malloy said. These include a nursing program, and early college certificates in Maine careers, through which students can earn college credits before high school graduation.
And, starting next year, full-tuition scholarships will be offered to 11 high-achieving Washington County students.
“I’m quite excited and optimistic,” Ferrini-Mundy said of changes at UMM.