- Maine has a growing population problem; its total number of high school graduates is declining and the average age of its residents is increasing. The two statistics are creating growing concern for its system of seven public four-year colleges and universities, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.
- System officials have consolidated campus services, increased out-of-state recruitment efforts, and broadened competency-based education programs, but the rural state still faces an uphill battle with the loss of manufacturing industries and the yet-to-arrive impact of population loss. Research indicates the Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire could lose 23% of their college students by 2029.
- Maine system leaders are working on a ‘One University’ concept to centralize approaches to administration and academic programs, but they find that culture and independent approaches to improving performance create sowed progress when a number of institutions are involved in the decision-making process. Also, administrators said that accreditation is a potential handicap to a multi-institution integrated university system mainly because of financial aid constraints.
Maine’s higher education struggles may be emblematic of the industry’s looming issues, but also reflect the specific challenges for rural states and regions. States like West Virginia, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi face similar prospects for cost-cutting and administrative cuts driven by the states' struggles to keep residents due to low job prospects and other issues.
Campus and system leaders can look for ideas from community colleges, which in recent years have become much stronger in developing workforce development partnerships to spur enrollment and private financial support. State and federal governments will not be able to boost industries that can complement full liberal arts degree programming, so the campuses must make the case for industry to support campus growth through a trained workforce and management preparation pipeline.