17 Nov What the heck is a Metropolitan University?
In the past year, the University of Southern Maine has been in the news as it navigates the white water of restructuring. It closed a $14 million deficit last year but now grapples with a current $16 million structural budget gap. Sadly, the operating costs of the university exceeds the revenue that USM receives from tuition, state aid and other sources of unrestricted annual support. With a financial crisis, it’s a good time to reinvent USM for the benefit of the students. So, what is this Metropolitan University and how do we get there?
For a mostly rural state, the term “metropolitan” seems out of place. However, the definition of a Metropolitan University (MU) is a good fit for the future of USM. It is a recognized model for higher education that many universities across the country have adopted to describe a deeper, more integrated curriculum with experiential learning. With southern Maine having 48 percent of the population and 52 percent of the employed workforce, the MU model makes a lot of sense.
At USM, there are several programs already in place that are models of what a multi-disciplinary course of study can do for those pursuing a college degree. In addition to programs in science/technology/engineering/math (STEM) as well as social sciences, the relatively new Tourism and Hospitality program and Risk Management & Insurance program are strong examples of demand-driven learning.
Let’s take a look at Tourism and Hospitality. The largest sector of the Maine economy in terms of jobs is centered around serving in-state and out-of-state visitors. If you think about it, the experience of our vacationing guests is largely defined by what they learn, eat, see and buy. All together, the quality of those experiences helps define the Maine brand.
It doesn’t matter if the weather is perfect or horrible, the hospitality of Maine people and the knowledge we impart about this place is what our guests will remember. That is why USM has established the Tourism and Hospitality (T&H) Program – to be certain that qualified graduates strengthen the Maine brand and grow this century-old industry.
Students in T&H already are integrating their studies outside the classroom. They have consulted with ten municipalities and delivered T&H plans to help those communities serve as effective hosts. As Steve Hewins, executive director of Portland’s Downtown District and chair of the USM T&H Advisory Board has said, “The Hospitality and Tourism program represents the future of Maine, and could be the cornerstone of the new Metro University. It could encompass so much of what draws visitors to this state – history, culture, arts, food, entertainment, retail shopping, outdoor recreation, etc. etc. This is tourism in its authentic nature. If we build a program around these attributes we will draw students from in-state and out.”
The program currently has 59 degree students enrolled and expects to increase its numbers to 75 by next fall. Anthropology, finance, marketing, event management and environmental sustainability are just some of the facets of this academic major.
In addition, AAA of Northern New England funded five scholarships to support students in the planning of a week-long spring cruise from Boston to Bermuda on a Holland America vessel. The cruise also will offer college credits for classes held during the cruise.
Another example is the Risk Management and Insurance Program. It may be surprising to know that Maine has the second highest concentration of claims adjusters, examiners and investigators in the country. Of the 1,750 Maine people employed in insurance claims, 1,340 are in southern Maine earning a mean annual income of $59,270. All in, Maine’s insurance business employs 13,418 people earning a combined $939.1 million in compensation. Again, the employer community stepped forward with financial and advisory support to teach students about financial accounting, law, environmental risk assessment and terrorism. The program now has 61 graduates with 91 percent working in Maine in insurance or banking. Starting salaries for new graduates range from $37,000 to $45,000.
Finally, the University of Maine System recently announced that “The National Security Agency (NSA) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has designated the UMS as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance/Cybersecurity (CAE/IAE), a designation that honors schools excelling in the development of professionals who help protect national security information systems.
The government has newly minted only a handful of schools nationwide with this specific designation, and the UMS is the first in the state of Maine to receive the recognition, which extends from 2014 to 2019.”
Professors Raymond Albert and Glenn Wilson told the UMS Board of Trustees that an estimated 300,000 jobs in cyber security will be created in the next few years. These, too, will require a multi-disciplinary education to fill the need.
While the headlines and evening news reports the painful changes of faculty and staff layoffs, the reality is that a new, leaner, stronger and relevant university is in the making. With the foresight of the board, engagement of the faculty and support of the employer community, USM and the state’s university system will emerge from the white water as a university of distinction for the students it serves.