The University of Southern Maine announced Thursday that it will consolidate 15 separate departments into a single division, in a reorganization that university officials say should help retain students and reduce costs.

The new Student Services Division will save about $500,000 in the first year and should offer students, especially freshmen, a clearer path to graduation. University officials say that will reduce the number of students who transfer to other schools or leave school before they graduate.

The organizational changes will take effect in September 2015.

USM will immediately begin a nationwide search for a vice president of enrollment management to lead the new division, a position with an annual salary of $135,000.

“We’ve heard from students that they were getting ping-ponged from one (academic) advisor to another. Some have told us they have never met their advisor,” said Chris Quint, USM’s executive director of public affairs. “For us, this consolidation will be transformational.”

USM President David Flanagan introduced the reorganization plan Thursday morning during the school’s Corporate Partnership breakfast. Later in the day, the university sent a message to its students, faculty and staff explaining the changes.

Flanagan, in his statement at the breakfast, said the university will consolidate “15 separate entities” that are involved with delivering services to students. The new Student Services Division will include such departments as financial aid, student life, athletics, career development and admissions.

“The well-intentioned proliferation of offices intended to serve students has created duplications, gaps and omissions that must be remedied so that all hard-working student service staff can focus on students, not bureaucracy,” Flanagan said in his address. “The current administrative array of efforts to offer support often leaves prospective and current students confused and frustrated.”

Flanagan said the new division will “more effectively serve students through one front door and to view all student service functions through the eyes of the student. We will eliminate the barriers that hinder our students’ ability to navigate their way to graduation.”

Quint said every freshman will be assigned a faculty mentor in their major field of study, and a professional advisor.

The mentor will help an undecided student settle on a major and course selections. The professional advisor will offer emotional and psychological support to students who have difficulty adjusting to college life.

“We want each student to feel like they are part of the USM family,” Quint said.

Quint said the consolidation is aimed at increasing enrollment, retaining students and improving life for all of the university’s students, which as of October numbered 6,050 on campuses in Portland, Gorham, and Lewiston. That represents a full-time enrollment that is 6 percent lower than in October 2013.

Quint said that about one-third of USM’s freshmen end up leaving the university or transferring to other schools before their sophomore year.

“We have to get our enrollment back up. It’s essential,” Quint said.

The new vice president for enrollment will also recruit students, not just from Maine but from New England and across the nation.

Quint said the new vice president’s salary will come from the $500,000 savings the university expects from the consolidation. As part of that consolidation, several vacant positions, including an assistant vice president’s post and an associate provost’s job, will not filled. Quint said no one will have to be laid off.