Recent commentary about the University of Maine System has unfortunately concentrated on peripheral elements of the system’s problems and hence offered inapposite solutions.

The system’s declining enrollment and flat state funding are merely symptoms of much more serious and intractable challenges that ultimately will make a major restructuring inevitable. University administrators and legislators can either manage change or be managed by it, but they cannot avoid it.

First, because of a history of appallingly poor management since its inception, the University of Maine System is, according to its own “Multi-Year Financial Analysis” completed last November, saddled with a “critical deferred maintenance estimate of $420 million” and “a total reinvestment backlog of $770 million.”

Put in simpler terms, the system has capital needs of more than $1 billion. In a state trying to cope with the economic challenges that Maine faces, these needs can never be met.

 Second, according to the Education Trust (, at more than half of the system’s campuses, fewer than half of its students graduate within six years.

The University of Maine and the University of Maine at Farmington have the best six-year graduation rates, at 60.4 percent and 59.4 percent, respectively. But at USM, only 32.9 percent of enrollees graduate after six years, and at the University of Maine at Augusta, the rate is only 12.7 percent.

It is a truism that in 21st-century America, higher education is important. Yet these figures suggest that in Maine, it is barely being provided.

Maine clearly has more of a university system than it uses, needs or can afford. The steps to a solution of the university system’s financial problems, then, can start only when administrators and legislators acknowledge this and act sensibly in response to it. Thus far, they haven’t.

Perry H. Clark

Cape Elizabeth