The University of Southern Maine is moving forward with a plan to change its name in an effort to attract more students.
"The question is ‘Why are you doing it?’ And the number one reason is we don't actually have a business plan that's sustainable,” says USM President Glenn Cummings. “We will be struggling with demographic decline for the next ten years."
In a presentation to reporters, school officials released polling indicating that the Gorham campus’ proximity to Portland will attract more students from outside the state, and also get the attention of high school guidance counselors.
Cummings expects the name change — if approved — to cost three quarters of a million dollars — but he expects that to be offset by increased enrollment.
The change was roundly criticized by state Senator Bill Diamond, a USM alum, in a Portland Press Herald Op-Ed last week.
President Cummings says some critics fail to recognize that the school has changed its name before.
“I smile a little bit at, in the sense they say 'well you know we've always been this name,' and I think 'no, my grandmother graduated from the Gorham Normal School,’” Cummings says. “We've had six name changes in 90 years.”
The schools’ polling also indicates that 57 percent of current students and and 66 percent of alumni oppose the name change. One student, Ryder Kallweit is open to the idea.
“It’s not that much difference,” Kallweit says. “I think including ‘Portland’ is a good idea for how much Portland is changing and gentrifying, and becoming way too expensive to live-in. I guess it would be a good move to get people to recognize where we are, instead of just saying ‘Southern Maine.’”
School officials hope to hold several community dialogue events throughout the spring. After that, the change would need to be approved by the Board of Trustees with the aim of seeking Legislative approval shortly thereafter. This timeline projects an effective name change in summer or fall of 2021.