Chancellor Dannel Malloy: University system flexibility helps learners go anywhere in the Maine workforce

The following commentary from University of Maine System Chancellor Dannel Malloy appeared in the Bangor Daily News (External Site) on Feb. 6, 2024.

Jamie Guerrette was at a career crossroads. The working mother of two could see the boost a bachelor’s degree in business could give her in the job market. What she couldn’t see was how she would find the time to come back to college.

Enter the University of Maine at Presque Isle’s YourPace.

A competency-based degree program offered entirely online, YourPace allows adults like Jamie to access courses when it works best in their busy lives, and advance as they master the material.

Students can receive credit for prior learning and work experience, and personal success coaches to support them as they progress toward their degree or certificate in high-demand fields including accounting, criminal justice, psychology and supply chain management. And they pay an affordable flat fee per session, regardless of how many courses they take.

Registration is open now for the next session, which starts March 11, at (External Site).

The fit and flexibility of YourPace — and her hard work on nights and weekends — enabled Jamie to finish her business degree in six months. She’s since secured a great job working for an Aroostook County nonprofit, and says the skills she has now she wishes she had years ago.  

In Maine, it’s estimated that 190,000 adults have some college but no door-opening degree or credential. Our public universities want to help those Mainers — and the state’s employers and economy — realize their full potential.

Doing so is not only essential to growing Maine’s workforce, but to ensuring the sustainability of our university system, which is seeing far fewer students enroll directly from high school.

YourPace proves what is possible, and has helped Presque Isle’s enrollment increase by 67 percent over the last five years. It’s just one example of our system’s evolution to better engage adult learners in earning a postsecondary degree or credential, consistent with Maine’s 10-year economic strategy of growing local talent and our own new strategic plan.

Expanded broadband connectivity has been invaluable to our doing so.

The University of Maine at Augusta was a pioneer in distance education, broadcasting courses statewide using interactive television starting in the late 1980s. This fall, distance education made up 37 percent of all credit hours delivered by the University of Maine System.

Across the system, our universities are adding responsive, high-quality online programming so adults can most easily access innovative education and opportunity in fields where Maine most needs knowledgeable workers. This shift online has led the system to start selling now-underutilized facilities to local partners so they can be repurposed for public benefit — like affordable senior housing — and reduce our operating costs.

The University of Maine at Fort Kent now has a fully online master’s in nursing, as well as RN to BSN programs so nurses here can improve their economic mobility and patient outcomes. And this fall, the University of Southern Maine launched an online bachelor’s degree in special education to up-skill those already working in the state’s schools including educational technicians. Even the University of Maine School of Law now has entirely online offerings, like its Compliance Program.

Of course, distance education isn’t for everyone. That’s why our system is improving in-person access in creative, cost-efficient ways.

For example, the University of Maine at Farmington delivers its bachelor’s in early childhood education at Southern Maine Community College, with evening and weekend classes preparing working adults in the state’s most populated region to build strong foundations for our youngest Mainers.

Beyond access and affordability, like traditional-aged learners, the 40 percent of the university system’s students who are 25 and older also need wrap-around support. The University of Maine, the University of Maine at Machias and at Fort Kent are collaborating to help Mainers Finish Strong — an adult degree completion program that provides scholarships including a free course, personalized advising and even intensive English language training for New Americans.

Higher education doesn’t have a reputation for flexibility. Here in Maine, our public universities are changing that and the lives of Mainers.

Dannel Malloy has been chancellor of the University of Maine System since 2019. Prior to his tenure in Maine, Malloy was a public servant for more than two decades, serving as a prosecutor, mayor and two-term governor of Connecticut.

About the University of Maine System

Established in 1968, the University of Maine System (UMS) unites seven Maine’s distinctive public universities, comprising 10 campuses and numerous centers, in the common purpose of providing quality higher education while delivering on its traditional tripartite mission of teaching, research, and public service.

In 2020 UMS became the first and only statewide enterprise of public higher education in the country to transition to a unified accreditation for the system. Much different than a merger or consolidation, unified accreditation is a new operating model for the University of Maine System that removes the primary barrier to inter-institutional collaboration.

A comprehensive public institution of higher education, UMS serves more than 30,000 students annually and is supported by the efforts of more than 2,000 full-time and part-time faculty, more than 3,000 regular full-time and part-time staff, and a complement of part-time temporary (adjunct) faculty.

Reaching more than 500,000 people annually through educational and cultural offerings, the University of Maine System also benefits from more than two-thirds of its alumni population residing within the state; more than 123,000 individuals.

The System consists of seven main campuses: The University of Maine (UMaine), including its regional campus the University of Maine at Machias (UMaine Machias); the University of Maine at Augusta (UMA); the University of Maine at Farmington (UMF); the University of Maine at Fort Kent (UMFK), the University of Maine at Presque Isle (UMPI); and the University of Southern Maine (USM). The System also includes a UMA campus in Bangor, USM campuses in Gorham and Lewiston-Auburn, the University of Maine School of Law, and the University of Maine Graduate and Professional Center.