University of Maine System chancellor meets with UMF staff, students

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Chancellor Dannel Malloy speaks to students and staff on the University of Maine at Farmington campus Tuesday.

FARMINGTON – University of Maine System Chancellor Dannel Malloy visited the University of Maine at Farmington campus Tuesday, prior to a Board of Trustees meeting to discuss unified accreditation for the UMaine system.

Unified accreditation has been previously discussed within the system, but a new acceptance for the concept on the part of the New England Commission of Higher Education has spurred the board to reconsider the concept. NECHE is one of seven organizations in the country that’s recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as an assessor of colleges. Currently, UMaine system schools are separately accredited by NECHE, with the exception of the University of Maine at Machias, which is accredited as a regional campus of the University of Maine school.

Accreditation is necessary for different reasons, including allowing students to utilize federally-funded sources of financial aid and enabling the transfer of credits between programs. Separate accreditation means that each campus governs their own academic programs and is reviewed individually by NECHE. A unified accreditation would have NECHE gauge the system as a whole.

Malloy became chancellor in July. He was asked by the trustees to review the system’s accreditation status and make a recommendation as to whether the schools should move toward unified accreditation.

As part of that process, Malloy has been attending series of meetings at different campuses across the state. On Tuesday, he was in the Roberts Learning Center on the UMF campus, outlining possible advantages of unified accreditation to roughly 100 students, staff members and administrators. Malloy intends to present the trustees with a report on the concept at their November meeting, with an eye toward making a final recommendation early next year. After that, Malloy said, he foresaw a two- to two-and-a-half year process to move the campuses to unified accreditation for all academic programs.

The process would not do away with the campuses individual presidents and provost offices, Malloy said. “Largely, we will operate as we have operated,” he said.

Unified accreditation would allow for greater access to programs for students across the system, particularly in the cases of students missing a small number of classes, or students that needed to take a single class out of order. Currently, Malloy said, it was too difficult for a student at UMF to take a course through a different school.

“We treat people coming from community college better than people going campus to campus,” Malloy said.

It would also make it easier for campuses to share the expertise of professors and cut down on the cost of offering programs, he said.

While unified accreditation was not a universal solution, Malloy said, it could provide a tool for the system to use in advance of upcoming challenges, which include lower state birth and graduation rates, fiercer competition for Maine students and a widely-anticipated economic downturn. Over the past few years, Malloy said, the rate of Maine high school seniors attending college within the UMaine system had decreased from 33.7 percent down to 29.4 percent.

UMF had lost 25 percent of its student population over a short period of time, Malloy said, with the school’s reserves having largely been spent. Competition for Maine high school seniors has continued to tighten: Plymouth State University in New Hampshire, Malloy noted, would be offering an in-state tuition rate to Maine students next year.

“Collectively, we’ve got to figure this out,” Malloy said.

Questions from UMF staff members included how UMF’s four-credit hour classes would fit into the UMaine system, if the switch would result in fewer classroom programs and more online classes and why this effort to move toward unified accreditation could succeed when other, previous efforts had not moved forward. Malloy said that the biggest difference was the approval of NECHE for the concept.

The UMaine system has created a website with information about unified accreditation here. Malloy said that he would be back on campus multiple times prior to the process moving forward.


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