The University of Maine System board of trustees approved changing the name for the University of Southern Maine to the University of Maine at Portland on Monday.

The proposal now heads to the Maine Legislature for final approval. It is on the list of bills accepted for the legislative session that begins in January.

“Changing USM’s name to the University of Maine at Portland will strengthen USM and the University of Maine system,” James Erwin, chairman of the system board of trustees, said in a news release. “By creating more clarity about its identity and improving its marketability, the board believes that USM will be better able to achieve its full potential.”

The name change initiative was launched about a year ago as a means of attracting more out-of-state students to USM.

In September, USM President Glenn Cummings presented the board with the results of a study that surveyed college-bound high school students, parents and guidance counselors throughout the Northeast.

The study found the name change would significantly increase the appeal of the campus to out-of-state students and more clearly identify it as part of the state university system.

The change is expected to cost the university about $1.2 million in upfront costs including new signs, sports team uniforms and a website redesign, but would attract between 80 to 100 new out-of-state students in the first year, Cummings told the board in September.

“With a steep decline in high school students in our state, we must attract out-of-state students to bring in resources to expand academic programs, improve our facilities and provide scholarships for Maine kids,” he said in Monday’s release.

“While we are proud of the tremendous progress we have made in recent years to strengthen and grow USM, we will take a step backwards unless we are successful in this effort.”

The board also voted unanimously on Monday to move ahead with steps toward applying for a unified accreditation for the University of Maine system.

Accreditation is the process by which universities are evaluated to ensure academic quality, and a unified accreditation would mean all seven campuses in the university system would be evaluated as one entity.

The move to a single accreditation, which is something the university has considered on and off since 2015, is being touted as a way to increase collaboration, especially for smaller campuses that  have struggled to maintain accreditation independently.

The directive approved Monday authorizes the chancellor to take steps toward preparing an application for unified accreditation for the board to consider in January.

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