New University of Maine at Augusta President Jenifer Cushman during a recent interview at her office in Augusta. Cushman signed a three-year contract that lasts through June 2026. Ashley Allen/Kennebec Journal

AUGUSTA — When Jenifer Cushman came across the University of Maine at Augusta’s presidential position, it ticked off every box she wanted in her next university job.

The school is based in a great location, reaches a wide range of students through remote learning and sites across the state and has the potential to transform people’s lives, she said.

In a recent interview nearly two weeks into her presidency, Cushman was eager to share her goal to expand the opportunities UMA can bring to the students and greater-Augusta community.

“Most of all, what UMA stands for transforming lives, access to education, multiple credentials towards a degree, career-focused, and it aligns with the state’s workforce needs,” she said. “I feel really fortunate to have found something that’s exactly what I believe in, strongly, and I know that UMA is doing really great things in the community, and I want to help it even more.” 

The UMaine System announced Cushman’s hiring in May. She signed a three-year contract ending June 30, 2026.

As UMA president, Cushman oversees the third-largest school in the state’s university system, which has 5,688 students enrolled.


She is set to receive $280,000 a year, $35,000 more than what the system is doling out to Michael Laliberte, who was hired for the same role in April 2022 and withdrew before his first day on the job.


Cushman’s upbringing is the source of her passion for using higher education as a way to change people’s lives. She grew up in the Appalachian area of West Virginia, where she said most people did not consider a post-secondary education. When she received a scholarship to Rhodes College in Memphis to get her bachelor’s degree, she got a sense of her “place in the world,” she said. 

“I saw how it (higher education) transformed individuals, how there is hope beyond your little community to expose you to different kinds of thinking to figure out problems,” Cushman said. “It transforms individuals, families, communities — wherever there is an institution of higher education, you know people are benefiting from it and giving back to the community. That’s what we need in the world right now.” 

Before landing at UMA, she served as the chancellor at Penn State Beaver, a small college of around 700 students in Monaca, Pennsylvania, part of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education. There, she worked to make the college a resource for people in the area, like she plans to do at UMA by connecting with local service organizations such as the Lions Club or Kiwanis International, and asking what the community needs from the university. 

“Here, what are the people doing? What are the challenges of community development? I know them in Beaver County, but not in Augusta. I need to learn through the process of developing relations and asking, ‘In what way can UMA contribute?’ Asking, ‘What do you need from the university that we are not providing?’” Cushman said.


Cushman pointed to the dental program run out of UMA’s Bangor campus as one example of how the university helps meet the needs of the local community.

Through that program, dental hygiene students offer free dental care to children and low-cost dental care to adults in greater Bangor. It began after state officials asked UMA to do a study on Maine’s dental needs. In addition to expanding access to dental care, the program aims to increase the number of dentists and dental hygienists who can make their way into Maine’s workforce.


UMA  prides itself on its accessibility through providing online courses and programs at 10 centers across the state, including its campus in Bangor.

Cushman said the university’s continued commitment to what it calls “distance education” allows it to attract people who want to finish their degrees or get a degree for the first time.

Most students at the university are “nontraditional,” with an average age of 28. Around 70% of UMA students are remote learners.


“I think a lot of people are focused on the 18- to 24-year-olds who spend four years on campus, and that’s not the reality of the country at all, especially in areas with not a lot of post-secondary education,” she said. “Let’s get the people who had a little education and want to finish the degree, or never had the thought (to go to college), and maybe are at a point in life where they regret it or want to finish their degree. They can go online, or get short-term credentials toward a degree, and the bachelor’s degree is not the only thing to get.”

The school carved itself out as a leader in remote learning well before the pandemic began. More than three decades ago, instructors would record classes on VHS tapes. Students could watch them at a local center or, for a time, on a public broadcast TV channel at their homes. They would mail in assignments, and faculty would mail them back, graded.

It was “the first statewide comprehensive distance-learning network in the United States,” then-president George Connick said. “Educators came from all over the country to learn first-hand what we were doing.”

Cushman has over 25 years of experience in higher education and her own children are in college, with her youngest son,  Jakub Dingo at Penn State University and her daughter, Halina Dingo, about to enter graduate school at the University of Colorado Boulder. Cushman made the move to Maine with her husband and settled in Waterville.

Since March was Cushman’s first time in Maine, she plans to spend her first few weeks getting acquainted with the campus and areas in which UMA has centers. She wants to use the summer to connect with staff and professors and get their ideas on how to move forward. “Sometimes their ideas are better than the leaders,'” she said, because of their knowledge of the campus, students and area.



As the university prepares to enter a new era under Cushman’s leadership, the system remains on the hook for mistakes made in the previous search for a president.

Laliberte stepped down last year after newspaper reporting revealed that the chancellor of the university system did not share that Laliberte received no-confidence votes at his previous university. Disclosure of this information prompted faculty outcry, student protests and criticism from legislators over his hiring and the search process.

In a settlement agreement, the system committed to paying Laliberte up to $235,000 a year, for three years. The yearly total reflects a salary of $205,000 and a housing stipend of $30,000.

Cushman’s yearly pay includes a $240,000 salary, a $30,000 housing allowance and a $10,000 car allowance, according to her contract. She also received a one-time payment of $30,000 for moving to Maine.

The housing and car stipends are similar to what the presidents of other campuses receive, according to a review of contracts.

In July, the system began to pay Laliberte in monthly chunks of about $20,000 that will continue through June 2025, as long as he proves his efforts to find employment.

A Freedom of Access Act request filed June 29 by the Kennebec Journal seeking Laliberte’s latest job search update has not been returned.

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