In this month’s missive from a member of the University’s leadership team, President Edward Serna reflects back on the last few months with gratitude while looking ahead with optimism.
Dear Alumni and Friends of UMF,
It’s been a few months since we’ve had a Farmington First issue, and even a few more since I’ve written you last. In the weeks since Farmington, and the University of Maine System, made the difficult but appropriate decision to move the remainder of the spring semester online because of COVID-19, our community, both near and far, came together in awe-inspiring ways.
UMF faculty, staff, and students rose to the challenge, adapted to new and uncertain times, and persevered through the end of the semester. By semester’s end, our campus — usually buzzing — was nearly devoid of students. Yet, it was nonetheless awash with pride and accomplishment. On May 9, the original Commencement date, we celebrated the graduating class with a Virtual Recognition. More than 60 faculty, staff, alumni, and students submitted words of encouragement to our seniors. It testified to the pride we feel for the Class of 2020. For those of you with friends and family members in this class, we remain hopeful for a late-summer, in-person Commencement to properly honor their hard work and achievements with a more traditional ceremony.
Dr. Edward Serna, President of the University of Maine at Farmington
But our community’s dedication to overcoming the obstacles imposed by COVID-19 did not end there. Since the beginning of April, more than 125 members of the UMF community, including nearly 70 alumni, contributed almost $15,000.00 to the Student Crisis Fund. These funds filled a crucial and immediate gap allowing us to offer technology solutions, address food insecurity, and provide direct financial support to keep students thriving and studying until the end of the spring semester. This is the essence of community; when members of our community are in need, we lend a helping hand.
Now that our spring semester is behind us, it’s time to shift our focus to the future. Earlier this month we launched into strategic planning work with Gray Associates, a higher education consulting firm, to evaluate our academic portfolio across various geographic markets. Gray’s program evaluation system provided critical market data on employment demand, student demand, and competitive intensity, all of which will be vital to our strategic-plan development in the fall. We are dedicated to being innovative and making decisions based on the best data available.
Keeping an eye towards the future, we also won approval from the Board of Trustees last month to drop our out-of-state tuition rate to our in-state rate for all of our graduate programs and certificates. We are the first in the University of Maine System to make this aggressive move, and we expect increased enrollments from students hailing from across New England. If you left Maine and are looking for compelling reasons to return to Farmington, I hope you’ll consider this opportunity.
Though we have much to be excited about as we look towards fall, we still face a number of problems. While closing campus this spring safeguarded the health of our students and the wider Farmington community, it came at a profound cost. I am working on a daily basis with the University of Maine System to determine the exact financial impact of COVID-19 on our FY20 and FY21 budgets and to assess where the Federal CARES funding may be able to offset some of our revenue loss. We are also adjusting our FY21 budgets based on forecasted decreases in our state appropriation and uncertain enrollment revenue due to COVID-19. The situation at UMF, like it is for many individuals in our community, is fluid and full of uncertainty.
So, what does this mean for us right now? In short, perseverance and flexibility, both of which UMF exudes in spades. At a very basic level, we must do everything we can to retain and recruit students. While we are still too far out to tabulate final enrollment numbers, our enrollment management team is working hard — in a challenging environment, to say the least — to admit and retain a strong class for Fall 2020. I am cautiously optimistic, as our current enrollment numbers are holding steady. We are committed to planning for the return to normal operations, with face-to-face instruction, for Fall 2020, but we also recognize that the situation may change. The safety of our students, faculty, and staff is our top concern, and we will be flexible in the months ahead to ensure we act in the best interest of our entire community.
How can you help? If you know high school juniors who are beginning their college search, seniors who are still in the decision-making process, or potential transfer students who are looking to make a change this fall, please share your Farmington experiences with them. It might be just what they need to hear to make UMF their home.
Thank you for your continued support as we navigate this rocky terrain. Your engagement and commitment to the University and our students is vital to our progress.
Best wishes and Go Beavers!
Dr. Edward Serna began serving the University as its 15th president on July 1. He came to UMF from the University of Arkansas–Fort Smith (UAFS), where he served as interim chancellor. His work at UAFS, a public, four-year university with an enrollment of 6,600 students and an annual budget of $80 million, has included leading initiatives focused on student success, student retention, and data-driven innovation. He received a doctorate of education in higher education from the University of Alabama, a master’s in management information systems from Auburn University, a master of science in industrial management from Clemson University, and a bachelor of science in business administration from Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C. After working as a senior business analyst and strategic management consultant in the private sector, Dr. Serna entered higher education as an assistant professor of management in Athens State University’s College of Business. Prior to serving as interim chancellor at UAFS, he was chief of staff and associate vice chancellor for external funding and chief of staff and vice chancellor for strategic initiatives.