Pit Stop #23: University of Southern Maine

Today, the best known Speaker of the House in Maine is Sarah Gideon, who was hoping (unsuccessfully) to unseat sitting Senator Susan Collins. Today I met the former Speaker Glenn Cummings, who is equally impressive and now five years into his presidency of the University of Southern Maine (USM).

Vice-Provost Barraclough & President Glenn Cumming from USM
Vice Provost Barraclough and President Glenn Cummings, close but socially distant!

After serving as Speaker, Glenn worked for three years in the Obama administration under Secretary Duncan in the Department of Education. He returned to his home state of Maine in 2011 as a member of the faculty of the University of Southern Maine, then served as interim President of the University of Maine at Augusta before being selected to lead the University of Southern Maine. Glenn is also another fellow alumnus of the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education. We appear to be taking over the world!

Antique Map of Maine
A beautiful old map in the USM Osher Map Library, which is a real gem!

Under President Cumming’s leadership, University of Southern Maine has seen enrollment growth for five straight years and this past year, even with the impact of Covid, USM experienced a very modest drop of a mere 1%. USM has three campuses with 8,600 students: the original one in Gotham (its only residential campus), a second smaller one in Lewiston/Auburn, and the campus where I visited with Glenn in downtown Portland which is experiencing rapid growth. In fact, Glenn shared drawings of an ambitious new project scheduled to break ground next year, with a great new campus center and almost 600 residential beds for graduate students. More than once, President Cummings also mentioned the progress USM has made on retention, with a 7% improvement over the past three years. 

white rocking chairs by window
Students are pulling up chairs and staying a while

 In the latest USNews &World Report rankings, USM is recognized as an overall top public school for social mobility (about half of USM’s students are the first in their families to seek higher education) and for its strong engineering program. The engineering department has built on USM’s nationally accredited mechanical and electrical engineering programs, with both programs having close ties with industry in southern Maine and beyond.

Cosmos photos in science building
USM’s Science Center

University of Southern Maine is also working hard to reduce the debt burden of its graduates, with this past year marking five consecutive years of debt reduction for its students–a reduction of more than $4,600 since 2015.

Those numbers mean the average USM undergrad will earn his or her degree with about $5,500 less in student debt…that’s 18% less than the national average.

There’s lots of exciting news coming out of the University of Southern Maine, and President Cummings generously shares the credit across his community. Take a listen.

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