MECA slims down

By SARA DONNELLY  |  July 12, 2006

James Baker, the new president of the Maine College of Art, in Portland, will start his job July 24 at a school that is nearly two years into a five-year, $15 million capital campaign and which has big plans to consolidate its campus in the Porteous building at 522 Congress Street. But to achieve its goals, MECA must first deal with declining enrollment and an administrative exodus.

Perhaps the biggest challenge facing MECA this year is enrollment that is down from a projected 435 to 400 undergraduate students, because of a thinly populated incoming freshman class. That gap of nearly 10 percent means about $550,000 in lost tuition revenue. A handful of adjunct faculty were told last month that their introductory courses would not be needed this year because of the enrollment decline.

MECA administrators say this year’s new financial-aid awards process is to blame. Rick Longo, who has restructured the financial-aid office since being hired a year ago as the school’s vice-president for enrollment management, believes fewer students will come to MECA this fall because the office under his direction flubbed the timing on aid notification.

While MECA offered larger scholarship packages this year than last (an average of about $9000 for the 2006/2007 academic year, compared with about $6000 for 2005/2006), the admissions office did not notify prospective students of scholarship awards along with their acceptance letters, as it had in the past. Instead, students did not find out until weeks or months later whether they had received merit-based money. Longo guesses some students didn’t want to hang around for MECA’s award package, and enrolled somewhere else.

“I don’t know what other schools are doing,” says Longo. “It might be that those awards beat ours or it might be that without the enticement of a scholarship, we weren’t of interest to the pool.”

Longo says the school will notify students of aid money earlier next year.

According to the school’s public-relations director, Jessica Tomlinson, “less than five” adjunct faculty at MECA were assigned fewer introductory courses than they were expecting because of the smaller freshman class this fall. Adjuncts are typically retained only as needed.

Adding to the disappointing enrollment — the first time in eight years that figure has dipped — MECA has lately been bleeding administrators and staff. College president Christine Vincent unexpectedly resigned in September 2005 after four years, citing family reasons. The dean of the college, Greg Murphy, departed that same month to chair the Creative and Fine Arts Department at the University of New England, in Portland. In spring of 2006, Toby Kamps, director and curator of the Institute of Contemporary Art at MECA, a gallery and art outreach organization, left his post to take a job at the prestigious Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati, Ohio. Cindy Foley, the ICA’s director of education and its assistant curator, also moved on recently, to a new home out of state. Carmita McCoy, MECA’s popular dean of students and director of student affairs, left in June because of “the need for a new skill set in the Student Affairs office,” wrote Tomlinson in an e-mail to the Phoenix. Jon Calame, the interim dean of the college, says he was fired from his position last month. Calame says faculty members complained about his performance, which included efforts to codify the faculty pay scale, improve MECA’s writing instruction, and create an online database of students’ course evaluations. MECA plans to announce Calame’s replacement shortly.

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