As joint stewards of the Aspirations program in collaboration with the Department of Education, the University of Maine System (UMS) and Maine Community College System (MCCS) have partnered to ensure consistency and equity in Maine’s public early college programming. Jointly, Maine’s public colleges and universities have built and strengthened student-focused partnerships to support Maine’s high schools. These partnerships have ensured that students benefit from a wide range of curricular offerings, career exploration, and support.
Credits with Purpose
Early College (EC) leaders acknowledged that students were accessing courses at institutions within UMS and MCCS simultaneously. Given the significant investment from the State, it became clear that there was a need to provide counselors, students, and their families better advising to
ensure that students choose courses with intention. In addition, EC programs have a fiduciary responsibility to create systems that avoid funding excess or non-transferable credits.
The credits with purpose project resulted from collaboration between Early College leaders at UMS and MCCS. Three key documents were created: a one-page Credits with Purpose flyer (PDF), an Early College Career Exploration Pathways Brochure (PDF), and a Pathways Poster. Copies of these documents were mailed to every public high school and Career and Technical Education Center in the state, and downloadable flyers are available on system websites (Pour & Hubbard, 2020). In summary, the documents explain how students should review potential programs of study at their target schools to help ensure transferability, understand how financial aid can be impacted if students do not make satisfactory academic progress, and how performing well in a few select courses can prepare students for college better than poor performance in many courses. The Career Exploration Pathways Brochure uses student-friendly language to first help students select common areas of interest. Then, these interests are aligned with EC courses, possible majors at both MCCS and UMS, and possible careers with 2-year or 4-year degrees in these areas.
While the document represents only a few examples of the many career exploration pathways offered by UMS and MCCS, it is a first step in helping high school stakeholders consider aligning content courses to their EC experiences. The Credits with Purpose initiative was shared with practitioners at the National Alliance for Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships (NACEP) annual conference, and was well received by over 400 seminar participants.
Unified Online Application Process: ExplorEC/OnCourse for College
The implementation of an online application program (External Site) has been critical to alignment, growth, and success at all of Maine’s Public Universities. Thanks to ExplorEC (developed and administered by the software company Canusia), UMS has streamlined workflow while increasing access to early college courses statewide. This helped to strengthen the relationships with high school stakeholders as well. Customization of the software to meet the needs of our programs has been key. Once our internal and high school partners realized we would respond to their requests, they embraced and welcomed the changes.
The online application system enabled campuses to respond to increased demand for courses due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite state-wide school closures and a shift to online emergency learning, Maine’s Public Universities were able to process summer and fall applications seamlessly. The student application is followed by parent and school counselor approval, which can be accessed by any computer or mobile device.
With the success of the rollout of ExplorEC, UMS’ online EC application processing portal, MCCS began consideration of utilizing a similar system. It was clear early in the process that alignment to a single application system would be ideal and would also help with the facilitation of the Aspirations program administered by the Department of Education. After confirming feasibility of this large-scale project with the software company Canusia, a data sharing agreement was signed between MCCS and UMS leaders. MCCS is currently in the pilot phase of implementation and will roll out to all campuses in the near future.
There are many key benefits to this collaborative endeavor. To the best of our knowledge, Maine will be the first state in the country with one uniform online application system that provides students statewide with access to courses at all 14 public institutions. Students, school administrators, and counselors will log into the system using only one email address and password. Administrators at all of Maine’s Public Universities and Colleges will collectively be able to assist high school stakeholders with any technical issues. Finally, high school and EC advisors will be able to monitor student course selection at both systems simultaneously to enforce the 12 credit limit on free tuition per Aspirations statute, and ensure that students are selecting courses and earning credits with purpose. The implementation of this application system will further the goals of providing equitable access while transforming educational opportunities for Maine’s high school students.