A Model Way of Giving High Schoolers College Credits: UMPI and MSSM

As the University of Maine System (Orono excepted) desperately seeks more undergraduate students amid declining enrollments in recent years, there is an understandable effort to recruit students from both within and outside of Maine who might otherwise not fill classrooms, laboratories,  residence halls, and, not least, parking lots. Considerable funds have been expended on seeking students not only from outside of the state but also from outside of the United States. How successful these efforts will eventually be remains to be seen.

In addition to seeking students who have never attended college anywhere, the UMaine System is recruiting students who wish to transfer into the System with some credits from community colleges and private colleges either in Maine or in other states. It is also encouraging students who have studied at one of the seven System campuses not to hesitate to transfer to another campus: either because another campus is now more accessible geographically or because another campus offers courses not offered at the original campus. To be sure, online courses within the System are being strongly recommended, and obviously they don’t require geographical proximity.

If, on the one hand, increasing undergraduate enrollments within the System is surely a wonderful goal, on the other hand, many faculty at Orono at least are concerned about evaluating transfer credits. In the crusade to increase the number of students, legitimate questions about the comparative value of transfer credits are often dismissed as the selfish objections of “elitist” faculty.

Of course similar objections are never dismissed when the issue is about athletics. A varsity athlete at another System campus or at a community college or at a private institution who insisted on being able to play for Orono’s Division I teams if he or she didn’t meet the existing standards would be laughed at.

As I’ve said before, no one seriously questions hierarchy in varsity collegiate sports. That’s life. Everyone does not automatically make the team, and those who do make the team do not automatically get to start or to play as long as the stars. But when  it comes to academic abilities these days, “anything goes.” Go figure.

In this light, it was heartening to read a recent story in the Bangor Daily News by Jen Lynds that detailed the ways in which the invariably smart and hardworking students at the Maine School of Science and Mathematics at Limestone are being given the opportunity to “earn a significant amount of college credit” before they graduate from their nationally respected school.

The agreement between the two institutions requires scrupulous analysis of the MSSM students’ records, not the rubber stamp being encouraged elsewhere in public higher education in Maine. No less important, the agreement provides for vastly reduced costs as compared with students entering UMPI without any or many college credits. A principal reason for the lower charges is that the college-level courses leading ideally to Associate Degrees will be taught by MSSM teachers, so that UMPI will not bear the costs of instruction.

Lest this new agreement thereby appear to be less than meets the eye, a systematic review of the qualifications of interested MSSM faculty–and of their syllabi and their textbooks–took place. If things work out, successful MSSM students will earn both an Associate degree in liberal studies from UMPI and an MSSM high school diploma.

How reassuring it would be if a similar level of tough-minded but fair-minded scrutiny of all varieties of attempted transfer credits into the UMaine System became the norm and not, as many fear, the exception. For now, UMPI and MSSM deserve statewide applause.