AUGUSTA — The University of Maine System announced Tuesday that Glenn Cummings, a former speaker of the Maine House of Representatives, will become the interim president of the University of Maine at Augusta.

Cummings, president and executive director of Good Will-Hinckley and the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences at Good Will-Hinckley, is replacing Allyson Handley, who announced last month she would be leaving for a job at National University in San Diego. Cummings will start Sept. 9 and serve until a permanent president is hired.

Cummings, 53, served as deputy assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Education, where he helped administer and coordinate programs for adult education and literacy, career technical education and community colleges.

He also taught educational leadership at the University of Southern Maine and researched ways to improve higher education retention and completion in the state, according to the news release about his appointment. Cummings, a Portland Democrat, served in the Maine House from 2000 to 2008, capping his legislative career with a two-year stint as speaker.

In an interview Tuesday morning with the Kennebec Journal, Cummings said his background in education specializing in the needs of nontraditional students makes him a good fit for UMA, where there are more nontraditional students than at any other university system campus. In the fall of 2013, about 60 percent of students at all system campuses were between the ages of 18 and 24, while more than 66 percent of UMA students were age 25 or older, according to a report from the system.

Cummings said the model of students enrolling at colleges right after high school is out of date. The research for USM showed that most people coming to universities now are asking what the degrees will be worth, he said.

“We have to think differently,” Cummings said.

While his son was applying for colleges for this fall, Cummings said, a professor at one of the colleges sent a handwritten letter telling his son what a good fit he would be at the school. An entrepreneurial mind-set like that is needed at the universities in Maine, Cummings said.

He also said he would like to find a way to make paying for college easier for people without a steady income by offering flexible payment plans or scholarships.

UMA is in the midst of a capital campaign to coincide with its 50th anniversary next year. Handley said at her State of the University address last week that the campaign had raised nearly $1 million toward its goal of $5 million to $7.5 million to support scholarships, online programs, veterans services and an auditorium expansion.

One of Cummings’ first tasks will be working on the capital campaign, he said.

“I think we’re the kind of school that could really use that money for scholarships and renovation projects,” Cummings said.

At the start of his time at UMA, Cummings said he also plans to get to know the faculty and staff and become more familiar with the programs offered. He said his initial impression has been that the faculty and staff are very efficient at what they do.

James Page, chancellor of the university system, said Cummings will bring a statewide vision to the position at a time when significant budget deficits have forced the system to undergo a restructuring process.

A budget approved by the board of trustees in May included taking $11.4 million from emergency reserves and eliminating more than 150 positions in order to close a $36 million budget gap. The trustees also approved a five-year strategic plan in May aimed at closing a projected $69 million budget deficit by 2019.

Cummings is the third interim university president appointed by the system this year, and a fourth president, University of Maine at Machias President Cynthia Huggins, plans to retire at the end of the year.

Page said the system has tried to make the replacement appointments with an eye toward addressing the deeper needs of the state. Cummings is known for his ability to solve problems collaboratively with other people, James said.

Cummings, who probably will serve as interim president for about a year, will be a part of the Presidents Council, which is looking at how to restructure the system, Page said. The system will begin the process of finding a permanent president later this fall, Page said. System Trustee Marge Medd will head the committee that will conduct a national search for a president, he said.

Cummings did not say on Tuesday whether he plans to apply for the permanent position, although Page said he is welcome to submit an application.

Cummings will earn a salary of $150,000, according to university system spokesman Dan Demeritt.

UMA is the third-largest public university in Maine with more than 5,000 students at campuses in Augusta, the University College of Bangor and eight University College centers around the state, according to the news release.

At Good Will-Hinckley, Chief Operating Officer Rob Moody will take over Cummings’ duties, according to a news release from the school in Hinckley. The school’s board of directors has begun a search for a new interim and permanent president for the school, the news release said.

Paul Koenig — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @paul_koenig

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