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PORTLAND — University of Southern Maine President Glenn Cummings on Tuesday said development at the Portland campus could include new dormitories, a performing arts center and a graduate center.
Speaking at the monthly “Eggs and Issues” forum hosted by the Portland Community Chamber of Commerce at the Holiday Inn by the Sea on Spring Street, Cummings outlined plans for the Bedford Street area off Forest Avenue.
“The Portland campus is a major asset in our future,” Cummings said.
He said there is a desire to see a master plan developed for the area that could include a performing arts center somewhere on campus, and told the crowd the redevelopment proposal would also likely include a graduate center to house the University of Maine School of Law and USM business programs.
There have also been conversations about including space for the Muskie School of Public Policy, according to Bob Stein, USM executive director of public affairs. That is still a conversation, but the move is supported by Cummings, who said such a program should be included at the Portland campus.
Cummings also spoke about creating dormitories on Bedford Street, and said the parking lot next to the USM book store would be a good site because the first thing anyone sees coming to the university by way of Forest Avenue is the parking lot.
Cummings said having new dormitories would be a way to retain students, as well as help students who live at the Gorham campus because they cannot afford Portland rents. A student center and dorms would also help recruit new students, he said.
Cummings said another aim is reconfiguring Bedford Street so non-school-related traffic is reduced.
He also spoke of the strides the university has made since he took over in 2015.
At that time, USM was facing a budget gap of nearly $17 million, he said, and in that time has not only balanced the budget, but has also been able to put some funds into reserve. He also said admission statistics spelled good news for the incoming class: There is a 17 percent increase in students from out of state, and a 30 percent increase in students of color.
Cummings said these are “two strong pipelines for our future.”
However, the university is not without challenges.
Cummings said it is losing students in persistence and retention – upper-classmen who leave the school without intending to return. He said one way to combat this loss is a mindset shift, meaning administrators and faculty should be more proactive in reaching out to students.
He said a handful of ideas about how to retain students emerged from interviews with students, including creating a better sense of connectivity between students and faculty; new training on issues such as diversity, inclusiveness, and “basics of customer service;” increasing affordability; valuing civic engagement, and having more opportunities for jobs and internships.
University of Southern Maine President Glenn Cummings on Tuesday, Oct. 4, said future development at the Portland campus could include a performing arts center and new dorms.