Alumnus Profile: Richard Cost

Dr. Robert CostEarly on, Dr. Richard Cost, GSE’77, realized that the job he really wanted was one in which he would ultimately make the decisions. As the University of Maine at Fort Kent’s (UMFK) ninth president from 2002 to 2010, Cost was finally able to do just that.

As president, “your real job is to help formulate the vision,” shares Cost. “Everyone has their own idea but a president needs to listen, to meld it all together for what is truly an exciting future for the institution.”
As the longest-serving president at UMFK in 25 years, Cost’s accomplishments, unsurprisingly, are many. Under his administration, UMFK increased enrollment, established the Center for Rural Sustainable Development, revitalized the UMFK Foundation, and was ranked as a Best Northeast College by The Princeton Review and a Best Baccalaureate College in North by U.S. News and World Report.
To achieve success, Cost encouraged collaboration and underscored the importance of reminding everyone how what they do is bringing the university one step closer to an exciting vision.
“Alumni, students, parents, trustees, and faculty members had different things that were important to them,” Cost recalls. “You had to know enough about what they were going to ask for and accommodate for that so that you would still move toward the shared vision every day.”
Cost believes that his entire career helped prepare him for his presidency. For six years, following his B.A. at Syracuse University, Cost served on active duty as a surface warfare officer in the U.S. Navy, ultimately retiring as a Naval Reserve Captain in 1994. As fate would have it, his career in higher education began at Rutgers-Newark in 1970 as Cost served as the assistant dean of students and director of financial aid. From Rutgers, Cost broadened his horizons as executive associate for the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of New Jersey.
Before assuming the presidency at UMFK, Cost also served as vice president for institutional advancement at Moravian College and Bridgewater State College, and stresses the importance of philanthropy.
“[UMFK and Rutgers] depend, without question, on funding available from state and federal subsidies but less and less money is available,” reminds Cost. “People who have been through a Rutgers experience and value it, need to give back to assist the next generation of students.”
For Cost, fundraising was a natural pathway to a presidency as university presidents friend and fund raise constantly. For those of you who may be aspiring to the VP or presidential level, Cost emphasizes the necessity of a master’s and doctoral degree, and the importance of doing your best in every step along the way.
“Test the water and look at different jobs,” Cost says. Ask yourself, “what part of higher education excites me the most? Any of those pathways, if you wish, can lead to a president or vice president title if you do them well.”
This summer, the University of Maine System Board of Trustees awarded Cost the title of president emeritus of UMFK, a special honor that will be marked with an investiture ceremony during commencement next spring.
Now in retirement, Cost currently serves as a trustee of the Davis Educational Foundation and vice chair of the board of the Silver Bay Association on Lake George. He also does some consulting in higher education. While he and his wife Ellen, GSE’73, call Massachusetts home, they return to Fort Kent for a few weeks each summer.
Recalling his presidency, “it was an absolutely joyful job,” Cost concludes. “The University at Fort Kent really was the perfect place for us.”