By Gia Pilgrim, Staff Writer
After extensive review and months of research, President Kathryn Foster presented the final and accepted copy of the Strategic Plan: UMF 2020, prepared by the UMF President’s Council. The plan was recently released to students and faculty via email. The plan included four goals and twenty strategies that will help to shape some changes at UMF over the course of the next six years.
The changes scheduled to take place include: The invention of Co-Lab integrative courses, an increased selectivity in applicants and a decrease in enrollment, certificate programming including a newly designed Mountain and Snow Sports Program, strengthening the historic strength of teacher education, high-quality personalized career advising, student cooperative residential housing, student management of select UMF operations, and taking advantage of the region’s natural, recreational, and cultural bounty.
In the Fall of 2013, President Foster created internal and external scan groups including students, staff, faculty, parents, legislative and community members to collect data, opinions, and information on the strengths and weaknesses of UMF. The goal was to gather viewpoints from both inside and outside of the university. Perceptions drawn from outside the university were positive, encouraging UMF to grow stronger and encouraging stronger ties to surrounding community and local industries. “Farmington is very lucky, no one wanted us to radically change who we are,” said Foster. “Engagement in our community was wanted even more.”
UMF graduate Paul Santamore was a student involved with the internal group process and review of UMF’s new plan. “Our group came up with many ideas,” said Santamore. “One that stuck was the creation of co-labs, with learning initiatives that will combine classes, co-curricular activities and projects in order to create real change at UMF.”
Santamore created his own major in Individualized Studies entitled, Poverty, Policy and Development. He believes that studying at a college like UMF can prepare students for many different career paths. “A liberal arts education can lead a student down many different avenues, but overall, it does just what UMF wants,” said Santamore. “It prepares students for an ever-changing, dynamic, and crazy world.”
According to the plan, UMF will position it’s mission and identity as a, “small, increasingly selective, public liberal arts college,” amongst the University of Maine System (UMS). With that in mind, UMF is reducing acceptance rates for less well-prepared applicants. Santamore replied to this strategy saying, “By lowering the full-time student quota, selectivity will increase and likewise, student ‘quality’ should increase too.” He went on to say, “The only problem I can see arising with this proposal is the question of what a ‘quality’ student is. How we define that type of student should be discussed before it is integrated into our admissions department.”
President Foster commented on decreased enrollment saying, “The most important thing is that we’re accepting students into our programs that are the right fit for them.” She gave the example of a well-prepared high school student interested in nursing. “The student might be plenty qualified to go to UMF, but it wouldn’t be the right fit for him/her.” With fewer students being accepted, one might wonder what that means for tuition prices? President Foster stated that she doesn’t believe prices will inflate.
Santamore is excited about the second goal labeled in the plan entitled, Experience UMF which aims to integrate experiential, hands-on learning to help students into real-world careers. “By working alongside experienced faculty, staff, and community members, students will surely grow much faster than they would by simply writing a paper or reading a book,” said Santamore. “I will actually be taking part in one of UMF’s newly created co-labs this coming spring semester as an alumni member.”
The third goal in the 2020 plan focuses on UMF’s location in Western Maine, and how UMF can, “draw more deliberately upon…place-based educational opportunities that mutually benefit UMF students and our region.” Sophomore, James Corcoran likes the goal saying, “The idea of students and faculty working together over multi-year localized and community based projects is a great idea. Not only does it help the surrounding community, but also it helps students hone in skills they could potentially use later in life.”
President Foster is very excited about the plans for UMF’s new certificate programs such as one scheduled in Fall 2016, Mountain and Snow Sports, which would be offered to any student with any major. “Most of our programming is towards a degree,” said Foster. “But some people don’t have the time or interest to necessarily get a whole bachelor’s degree.” The benefits to these nationally recognized certificates could be a fallback for some students.
President Foster believes the statewide strategic plan was due at the perfect time, saying, “Now than ever before, the UMS campuses are working together.” All programs in the UMS are under review, as all campuses are finalizing their Strategic Plans statewide. The changes made might lead to budget cuts, but President Foster says, “I hope not,” she went on to say that the administration has, “made no decisions and identified no programs for reduction or elimination.”
Santamore hopes to see UMF and its students thrive and act sustainably in the long term as a result of the 2020 plan. “I really cannot see any glaring issues with it. The creators and contributors to this plan took care in creating it and I believe that it is one of the best that I have ever seen.”