During my short time as president of the University of Southern Maine, I have been forced to make difficult, but necessary, decisions in order to create a prosperous and sustainable future for this great university.

Our budget-balancing choices to date have eliminated five underenrolled academic programs – with 53 undergraduate and graduate program offerings remaining. We have also eliminated 50 faculty positions, saving about $6 million toward closing our $16 million structural gap.

The changes we’ve undergone this month are upsetting to all of us, and unfortunately, more are coming in the way of reductions of our administration and staff. I truly regret the necessity of these decisions.

I had two options for closing this gap: Reduce the size and scope of the university or increase tuition. If we had decided to close the gap by raising tuition, we would have had to increase the cost of getting an education at USM for our Maine students by $3,200 per student per year, to over $10,000. We need to make USM more affordable and accessible, not less so.

To help all students engage successfully with all that USM has to offer, I am happy to report that we have reinvested and consolidated the myriad of student services programs into one Student Services Division – improving the way we recruit students and once they are on campus, ensure that they have a clear path to graduation. This new structure is intended to lead to increased recruitment and increased retention – both of which make it possible to offer cutting edge academic programs and effective student services.

In the last five years, USM has seen a 14 percent drop in enrollment – 6 percent in just the last year. Compounding this, one-third of our first-year students do not come back for their sophomore year, instead choosing to either pursue degrees elsewhere or discontinue their college career altogether. We must do better.

A study recently commissioned by the university reveals that student enrollment at USM could decline as much as 15 percent over the next decade if we were to continue along business as usual. This is in part due to unfavorable demographic trends and increased competition. We do not have the luxury of doing nothing – it would not be in our present and future best interests.

USM is choosing instead to keep our quality public higher education affordable and accessible and to improve our ability to support students through more efficient and effective student support services

USM’s new Student Services Division will be led by a vice president for enrollment management, which was created by the elimination of two upper-level administrative and vacant student services positions. This new integrated approach to delivering student services is structured to provide seamless support for all of our students.

Effective for the fall 2015 semester, on the day a new student arrives at USM, he or she will be assigned a professional staff adviser and a faculty mentor to accompany them on their entire journey to graduation. This support structure will help develop a clear pathway to graduation and will develop meaningful relationships and tools for each student to fulfill their dreams here at USM.

We have also centralized and consolidated several career services enterprises into one office. Businesses, nonprofits and public service institutions will have one centralized location to access qualified interns and promote internships for our students. By facilitating the collaboration of our hardworking students and well-established community partners, we can help to create a stronger, more prosperous region.

USM is important to Maine, to Maine’s economy and to our hopes for the future. We are moving away from patterns of business as usual. The dreams of our students to become teachers, nurses, social workers, artists, business owners and more depend on a strong, vibrant USM. I am committed to making difficult choices and positive investments for a sustainable USM.

USM can have a bright future as the affordable, accessible, quality public university in this dynamic region of Maine. Let’s work together to make that promise a reality.