AUGUSTA — University of Maine at Augusta President Allyson Handley is leaving the university for a job in California after more than six years at the helm of the university system’s third largest school.

Handley announced Monday she has accepted a job at National University in San Diego, which is California’s second largest private nonprofit university, according to its website.

Handley, 67, came to UMA in 2008 and was the university’s first woman president.

Handley said she loves UMA, and it was a difficult decision to leave, but she cited personal and professional reasons for the move. She said she’s returning to National University, where she worked for much of the 1990s and where she will be the first executive director of a new initiative developing national programs for non-profit organization leaders.

Also, working in California will make it much easier to see her children and grandchildren, all of whom live there. She also feels UMA has a strong leadership team in place and an excellent future ahead of it.

“Building the team — that will be my legacy,” Handley said in a Monday interview.

During her six-and-a-half years at the university, UMA formed partnerships to create new programs in architecture, aviation and nursing, enhanced its support of veterans, and acquired the Gannett building that now hosts UMA programs in downtown Augusta. It also built a new dental hygiene clinic on the affiliated Bangor campus, strengthened online and distance education, enhanced student support with a new Enrollment Services Division, built partnerships with business and civic leaders and legislators in local communities and regionally, and established an advancement and alumni office.

She said in a letter sent to UMA faculty, staff, students and alumni Monday, “These were not my accomplishments, they were ours.”

In the interview, she said her only regret is not being able to see to completion a fundraising campaign that is currently underway. The campaign is tied to UMA’s upcoming 50th anniversary in 2015.

However, she said in her remaining month on the job, she plans to focus her energy on securing major gifts for the campaign.

“This community is, and always has been, solidly behind UMA,” she said of funding and other support for the university.

Prior to coming to UMA, she worked as a senior policy adviser for economic initiatives at the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education and had previous experience as a college president in Kentucky and California.

Handley, a native of Canada who became a U.S. citizen in 2000, holds a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Western Ontario, a master’s degree in education focusing on learning disabilities and a doctorate in education concentrating on human communication and its disorders, both from The Johns Hopkins University.

She replaced university president Richard Randall. Handley noted that Randall, who died in 2008 shortly after Handley’s arrival, made sure she received a warm welcome into UMA, even though he was in poor health at the time.

Handley will leave UMA next month.

Ken Elliott, a psychology professor with UMA full time since 1991, said Handley will be missed.

“I think she has done a world of good for this place,” Elliott said. “I think some of the changes to the university system may have overshadowed some of the things she has done.”

Frank Ellis, assistant professor of psychology and human services and president of the UMA Faculty Senate, said Handley “brought a whole new dimension to UMA.”

“She brought in ideas from outside the domain of Maine and tried to move the university to reach higher potentials,” said Ellis, who has worked at UMA since 1984. “I think she has done a great job. I wish her well. Now the focus goes to where we go from here.”

Handley said UMA administrators had to make some difficult decisions in June to cut some $3 million from its budget as part of system-wide cuts.

System Chancellor James Page said he would immediately consult with university leaders and campus and community stakeholders to select an interim president for UMA.

Handley said she believes UMA needs to continue to have its own president, especially so UMA’s many non-traditional, commuting adult students will continue to have a voice at the table within the university system, where the other university campuses generally attract more traditional, younger residential students.

Under Handley’s tenure, UMA’s mission has been refocused from mostly two-year associate degrees to more four-year baccalaureate degrees.

In the 2009-2010 school year, UMA students took 55,154 credit hours seeking baccalaureate degrees and 31,044 credit hours seeking associate degrees. By the 2012-2013 school year, credit hours for baccalaureate programs had increased to 69,445 while associate degree credit hours decreased to 24,730.

State Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, son of longtime UMA advocate the late Bennett Katz, for whom the UMA library is named, said in a written statement Handley has been a campus leader and community builder in the region.

“Her civic leadership has made our corner of the world a better place and provided better opportunities for the students she serves,” he said. “We are going to miss Allyson in Augusta but thank her for her friendship and all she has accomplished for our region.”

Peter Thompson, president and CEO of the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce, who is a member of UMA’s board of visitors and who served on the search committee that selected Handley for the UMA job, said she exceeded expectations at what has grown to become the university system’s third largest school.

“Dr. Handley brought her proven leadership skills to UMA, threw in an intense dedication to continuous improvement and carried her efforts over into the community at large,” Thompson said.

During Handley’s tenure, the university created a new architecture program, partnered with Maine Instrument Flight, based at the Augusta State Airport, to create a new aviation program and worked with MaineGeneral to create new nursing programs.

Handley worked to raise awareness of UMA’s desire to recruit military veterans to become students, hiring a coordinator of veterans services, promoting veterans services and adding a lounge for veterans on campus.

Handley starts her new job Sept. 15, becoming the first executive director of National University’s new Sanford Education Center, which will include work developing national programs for new teachers and new degree programs on philanthropy for leaders of non-profit organizations. She will work for UMA until Sept. 8.

Page, in a news release, said Handley “has achieved campus and community consensus around tough decisions, established important new programs for our students, and she has built a leadership team and infrastructure that will sustain the important work she began.”

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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