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ERIC Number: ED534856
Record Type: Non-Journal
Publication Date: 2011-Apr
Pages: 56
Abstractor: ERIC
Made in Maine: A State Report Card on Public Higher Education
Markley, Eric; Poliakoff, Michael
American Council of Trustees and Alumni
Maine is blessed with universities that have records of significant achievement. The seven campuses of the University of Maine System (UMS) together educated over 23,000 students (full-time equivalent) during the past year. But for good reason, in recent years public confidence in higher education throughout the nation has fallen. Half of the respondents in a Public Agenda survey last year said that they believe colleges could spend less and still maintain academic quality; 49 percent agreed that their state's public college and university system needed to be fundamentally overhauled. Such erosion of public confidence is not surprising in light of major studies of student learning. In Maine, Governor Paul LePage has called for transparency and accountability and new, cost effective delivery strategies for higher education through the Learn to Earn initiative. It is in this context that ACTA (American Council of Trustees and Alumni) offers "Made in Maine: A State Report Card on Public Higher Education." The first section focuses on general education--those courses usually completed within the first two years of a bachelor's degree program to ensure a common intellectual background, as well as college-level skills critical to workforce participation. Here the authors found that while all of the University of Maine System campuses require their students to take courses in composition and natural science, the curricular weaknesses are also very clear: only two UMS campuses (Orono and Fort Kent) require students to take a course in college-level mathematics; only one (Augusta) requires a broad literature survey; and no campus requires foreign language study beyond the beginning level, or any courses at all in U.S. history or government or in economics. The University of Maine System requirements should be tightened so that they clearly point students to essential knowledge. In the second section, the authors focus on intellectual diversity, a value that lies at the very heart of the educational enterprise. In the simplest terms, intellectual diversity means the free exchange of ideas. According to a scientific survey of students the authors commissioned, the UMS needs serious improvement in this area. Students unambiguously report violations of professional standards--including perceived pressure to agree with professors' views in order to get a good grade--and exhibit an unsettling lack of awareness of their rights and how to ensure those rights are respected. There are available remedies, and many institutions across the country have taken responsible action in recent years to guarantee intellectual pluralism. The University of Maine System should join them. The third section turns to governance and actions by the UMS Board of Trustees. These board members are responsible for the academic and financial well-being of the institutions they oversee and for safeguarding the public interest. Their examination of board minutes and other publicly available materials suggests that the board functions, generally speaking, in a transparent manner. As a whole, however, the board needs to be more proactive; as fiduciaries, they should be more fully involved in presidential searches, academic program prioritization, academic quality review, and initiatives for affordability and student success. In the final section, the authors look at cost and effectiveness. This is an area of real concern. On average, from 2004 to 2009, in-state tuition and fees at UMS institutions increased by an average of 35 percent. The Farmington campus raised tuition almost 50 percent in just five years. Meanwhile, on no campus did they find even two-thirds of the students receiving a degree within six years--suggesting that not only is tuition going up, but many students are paying well beyond the expected four years, and even beyond six years. System-wide, only about one in five students admitted to a four-year program at a UMS institution will graduate on time. Even if given six years, the system only manages to graduate about 40 percent of its students. The Orono and Farmington campuses have slightly higher graduation rates, as would be expected from, respectively, a state flagship and a liberal-arts college, but 58 percent and 62 percent (respectively) are still unacceptably low graduation rates. The economic recession that has caused hardship for the nation has occasioned a rethinking of higher education cost and effectiveness. ACTA's hope is that this report card will help the citizens and policymakers of Maine strengthen the University of Maine System and model practices that will also help other states in their higher education reform efforts. Appended are: (1) Selection Criteria for Core Courses; and (2) Student Survey Methodology. (Contains 30 footnotes.) [This paper was created with The Maine Heritage Policy Center.
American Council of Trustees and Alumni. 1726 M Street NW Suite 802, Washington, DC 20036. Tel: 888-258-6648; Tel: 202-467-6787; Fax: 202-467-6784; e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Reports - Evaluative
Education Level: Higher Education
Audience: Community; Policymakers
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: American Council of Trustees and Alumni
Identifiers - Location: Maine