University of Southern Maine President Glenn Cummings highlighted progress on admissions, a stabilizing budget and plans to expand the school’s Portland campus in his pitch on Tuesday to members of the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Cummings told local business and community leaders, including several members of the Portland City Council, that after years of declining in-state enrollment, the school is working to attract students from out of state with new scholarships, international exchange programs, and plans to build housing and a student center on its Portland campus.

“We have to be much more entrepreneurial in our efforts to reach out to students out of the state and around the globe,” Cummings said.

So far that strategy appears to be working as Cummings reported that USM had stabilized enrollment for the first time in 11 years, thanks in large part to a 17 percent increase in out-of-state admissions. The school also saw a 30 percent increase in the number of students of color admitted this year. With that kind of progress, Cummings said he hopes to increase enrollment from 8,000 to 10,000 students over the next five years, restoring the student body to historic levels.

To accomplish that goal, Cummings said the school will need to further distinguish itself in the crowded field of New England colleges. He sees the proposed plans for the Portland campus as key to those efforts.

“Portland is considered one of the best, if not the best, small city in America, so we have a huge asset that we’re not really applying, particularly with out-of-state students,” Cummings said.

The University of Maine system has come to rely on out-of-state students as its board of trustees voted this spring to keep in-state tuition flat for the sixth straight year, in exchange for an increase in state funding. The trustees also approved requests for a 12 percent increase in state funding for 2017 and the 2018-2019 budgets. USM’s out-of-state students will pay $19,950 in tuition for the 2016-2017 academic year, compared to $7,590 for Maine residents.

Cummings had previously outlined the long-range plan for a more cohesive Portland campus that would replace Bedford Street, which bisects the Portland campus, with student housing, student and arts centers and open green spaces. USM officials have said the plan, which has not yet been approved by the University of Maine’s board of trustees, would probably take five to 10 years to complete and cost up to $100 million.

USM is also working on plans for a new professional school that would combine its law, business and policy schools under a single roof. The Harold Alfond Foundation is the driving force behind that project, though questions remain as to whether the school would be built on the Portland campus or in downtown Portland.

Cummings argued that the proposed investments in the Portland campus would be a boon for both recruitment and retention efforts. In addition to attracting out-of-state students, student housing on the Portland campus would help USM students burdened by the city’s high rents. Cummings said upperclassmen are drawn to Portland’s nightlife, arts, culture and job opportunities but are sometimes forced to drop credit hours in order to cover housing costs. The proposed student housing would provide a lower cost alternative to students interested in exploring the Portland area.

Cummings stressed, however, that plans for the Portland campus were not intended to divert resources from the school’s historic hub in Gorham. That campus, he said, would still be the focal point for first and second year students learning to navigate the USM system.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.