Future students in the University of Maine System will have more courses to choose from, a curriculum that relies more heavily on computers and higher tuition costs as a result of a plan to save nearly $43 million that received the trustees' go-ahead Monday.
The board overseeing the seven-campus system unanimously approved a slightly modified plan that was introduced by Chancellor Richard Pattenaude to cut costs, become more efficient and expand opportunities for students.
Without taking action, a $42.8 million gap between expenses and available revenues in the UMaine system would have developed by 2013, with a likelihood that it would grow in later years, Pattenaude said. To avoid the shortfall, tuition increases totaling $3 million to $5 million was built into the plan, Pattenaude said.
"The tuition (increase) is not to exceed 6 percent per year, and hopefully it would be less," Pattenaude said.
Some of the roughly 40 items listed in the plan, including centralized purchasing, are already being implemented, while others will be phased in more gradually, the chancellor said.
The universities still need to identify degrees to be offered in compressed, three-year degree programs, Pattenaude said. Right now, only one has been listed.
The plan also calls for doubling the number of students enrolled in online programs, increasing the number of students graduating from health care programs by 20 percent to meet needs in the state in that field and increasing professional programs, especially at the graduate level.
The system's schools have a total enrollment of 42,000 and hope to increase the number of students attending and graduating. Under the plan, the schools would use technology to reach out to out-of-state students.
"We are making a rapid conversion to online," said Pattenaude. "The key is putting degrees online and not just courses."
The action plan has been reviewed and vetted, with input from each of the university campuses and their students, faculty, staff, communities and boards of visitors. It was also reviewed by experts and policymakers.
Trustees' Chairman Lyndel Wishcamper said the plan comes at "a crucial moment for the University of Maine System, given our financial challenges." He said the chancellor and campus presidents will receive the trustees' full backing as the plan moves forward.