The outgoing chancellor of Maine's university system says the state is now on the "right path" for higher education, but still faces obstacles in the years ahead.
James Page, who's retiring as chancellor this summer, told the Legislature in an address Thursday that he is proud of the state's progress since he took over the system seven years ago. At that point, the state's seven universities faced multi-year budget deficits. In response, the system made several substantial reductions, including controversial cuts to academic programs at the University of Southern Maine.
Page also led a "One University" initiative to reduce redundant programs and encourage collaboration across the system's seven institutions. Page said that's helped streamline higher education in the state.
"One University has set us on the right path. It has changed us from a fragmented, often isolated federation of institutions to a single system working in aligned service to our students and all Maine people," he said.
Yet higher education still faces substantial challenges in the coming years. The university system is projected to face a budget deficit in the next fiscal year that is expected to require increasing tuition and dipping into roughly $3 million of reserves.
Page also acknowledged that student debt is still too high for Maine graduates. And he asked the Legislature to invest in policies like broadband access, which he said can help Maine's adult students gain new credentials beyond a high school diploma.
"A working parent in Rumford or in Rome cannot move to a campus, is unlikely to take classes on anything like a traditional schedule, and requires very different kinds of advising and support than a recent high school graduate does," Page said. "We have to meet these folks where they are. Because when we do, they will succeed."
Page asked the Legislature to support the budget proposal from Gov. Janet Mills, which would boost university appropriations by 3 percent.
Page is set to retire from his position by the end of the academic year, with a new chancellor likely appointed by this summer.
Originally published March 14, 2019 at 2:33 p.m. ET.