The University of Southern Maine lifted the curtain on a new academic year Thursday, announcing a major increase in support of nursing scholarships, an exchange agreement with a university in Iceland and a long-range plan for a more cohesive Portland campus.

The campus plan would eliminate Bedford Street, which bisects the Portland campus, and could eventually lead to construction of new dorms, a professional school and two new grassy quads.

USM President Glenn Cummings, who briefly discussed the plan at the university’s 2016 “Opening Breakfast” Thursday morning, attended by about 250 people on the school’s Gorham campus, said the changes foreseen for the Portland campus are still in the initial stages and haven’t been formally presented to the school’s board of trustees. USM officials said the plan would probably take five to 10 years to complete and cost up to $100 million, not including the cost of the professional school, which may be at least partially underwritten by the Harold Alfond Foundation.

Cummings said fewer than half the cars that travel on Bedford Street, which provides a connection between busy Brighton and Forest avenues, are using it for university purposes. He also said that the school needs more dorms amid a housing crunch in Portland.

He said providing better security for the campus is part of the impetus for closing the street, but the primary goal is to create a more connected campus.

“We’ll put down green space where students can walk and feel like they own the campus,” he said. “Right now, the center of our campus in Portland is a parking lot, and we can do better than that.”

USM officials have discussed the Bedford Street plan with city officials, Cummings said, but haven’t yet made a formal proposal.

The long-range plan also envisions a professional school on the Portland campus near the intersection of Falmouth Street and Deering Avenue.

Cummings delivered a forceful declaration that the professional school, which would house the University of Maine School of Law and graduate business programs, should be on the Portland campus of USM.

GROWTH AND NO BUDGET CRUNCH

But a task force studying the issue is weighing whether the school should be on the USM campus or elsewhere in downtown Portland and the issue is likely to be contentious.

Cummings said USM is on better financial footing than it was two or three years ago, when a budget crunch led to layoffs of faculty members.

In fact, Cummings said, this year he returned $2 million to the University of Maine System because it wasn’t needed to cover a potential deficit.

“I begged it to stay, but I had to send it back,” Cummings said. “We have a little bit of savings. That will help in the tough times and we want to grow that.”

Cummings said the school’s enrollment is growing, with applications up 14 percent compared to last year.

As of Aug. 22, he said, admissions were up 6 percent and enrolled students had increased 3 percent.

Students enrolling from out of state were up 23 percent and students of color have increased 42 percent, while the number of presidential merit scholars enrolled has increased tenfold.

He said USM is focused on three issues that students have said they are concerned about: affordability, connectedness and civic engagement.

The university is stepping up efforts to provide more scholarships, Cummings said, an area which got a major boost Thursday when the Boyne Foundation added $500,000 to the organization’s existing scholarship program for nursing students, which dates back nearly a decade.

The foundation was created by Philip J. Boyne, a Houlton native and oral surgeon who later was a researcher and faculty member of the Loma Linda School of Dentistry in California.

Boyne earned a bachelor’s degree from Colby College in Waterville and his dentistry degree from the Tufts School of Dental Medicine, and family members said scholarships helped pay for his education.

DONOR FOCUSED ON CARE FOR NEEDY

As he and his wife, Mary Anne Boyne, aged, the couple grew more concerned about the day-to-day needs of the elderly, and the foundation began supporting students interested in nursing and caregiving for people who have lower incomes or less access to care.

Boyne passed away in 2008, and his wife passed away in 2014. One of their grandchildren graduated from USM in 2008.

Cummings said USM would like to see scholarships grow by $50 million in the next five years.

On connectedness, Cummings said USM has started an intensive freshman advisory program, provides new activities for commuter students and has even taken a small step to help students connect with faculty and staff that he said he learned about while taking his daughter on college visits – coffee is free in university cafeterias if a professor or staff member is there to meet with a student.

TIES TO THE WORLD

For civic engagement, Cummings said USM is trying to expand internships and strengthen its partnerships with community groups and he also pointed to the new formal student exchange program signed Thursday with Reykjavik University in Iceland.

USM has been working with the Icelandic college for several years and the agreement formalizes the arrangement.

Students in USM’s hospitality program have been working with counterparts in Iceland, which is experiencing a tourism boom over the past decade.

USM officials said Maine students have also studied Iceland’s fisheries, with an eye toward helping the nation make better use of its cod fishery, and students in the Muskie School of Public Service have worked on public health research with scholars in Iceland.

Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

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