BY JESSICA BLOCH
OF THE NEWS STAFF
BANGOR — Considering the dwindling opportunities in Maine’s manufacturing sector, the opportunities afforded by distance learning through the University of Maine System should not be discounted.
That was the message almost 40 people gathered Friday afternoon at University College of Bangor, a campus of the University of Maine at Augusta, had for seven members of a task force appointed by Chancellor Richard Pattenaude. The task force is charged with making recommendations on the future structure and function of the system as the system faces an estimated $42 million shortfall in the next four years.
Employees and students at UMaine System sites in Bath, Saco, Rockland, Ellsworth, South Paris, and the downtown Bangor system office listened and commented through videoconferencing.
Task force chairman David Flanagan led the meeting.
Distance education is growing within the UMaine System as students all over the state take advantage of classes through 10 University College regional centers with live professors, videoconferencing, interactive television, and the Internet, and other community ITV sites.
But there are disjointed elements of the UMaine System, several speakers said, which make it tough for students.
“We see a system that’s impeding itself. We see a lot of fractured approaches to the distance education student in Maine,” said Deb Meehan, the director of University College’s Rockland center. “I really urge the system to look at the ‘distance ed’ student as an important consumer and how can we do a better job.”
Meehan and other attendees commented on the need for centralizing some aspects of the system, particularly for students who take distance learning courses from several campuses at once. There are differences in academic calendars, methods of withdrawing from classes, registrar and financial aid offices, grading and even course numbers.
Kathleen Surpless, a UMA associate professor of political science, made a case for more campus control.
“The ability to make at least some decisions locally is very important for the health and vitality of the community,” she said.
Other issues included the importance for nontraditional students of having classes taught by live professors, and student retention.
Mary Lynch, a Lincolnville resident who is taking classes through the Rockland center, said distance learning has made it possible for her to go through retraining after her own business closed.
“Without the facility here, I would never, ever have been able to get the traction to get going on a new path,” said Lynch, who recently was accepted to UMaine’s international affairs program.
Flanagan is expected to report on the task force’s progress during a UMS board of trustees meeting Monday.