FORT KENT, Maine — In a first step toward responding to the University of Maine System chancellor’s challenge to find ways to shore up enrollments and deal with financial straits systemwide, University of Maine at Fort Kent officials on Wednesday announced plans for a three-year bachelor’s degree in education beginning next fall.
The Student Teachers Aspiring to meet the Real challenges of Schools, or STARS, program, is an accelerated three-year bachelor’s degree for academically gifted and talented students who aspire to become exemplary teachers.
“There are students who know early on that they want to be a third-grade teacher,” UMFK President Richard Cost said Thursday, “and they want to do it as quickly as possible.”
The STARS program will be the first three-year bachelor’s degree program announced by any of the University of Maine System campuses since Chancellor Richard L. Pattenaude called upon them to offer a three-year option for completing a bachelor’s degree.
Pattenaude, speaking to news conference participants Wednesday by videoconference from the University of Maine System offices in Bangor, said he was “very pleased that UMFK has taken the lead in providing an option that will save students time and money.”
“The university’s commitment to our students’ needs is noteworthy,” he said. “The three-year degree option draws on one of the priorities of our New Challenges, New Directions Initiative and is a first of many to come.”
“These students are going to graduate with a four-year degree, but they are going to accomplish it in three years,” Cost said Thursday. “As part of the program, students will carry approximately 16 to 18 credit hours per semester and take summer school classes as well. They also likely will participate in a winter semester.”
Cost said the program is going to save students money because they will be in school three years as opposed to four. It also will benefit the university.
“We think that there is a market out there of students who will be interested in this,” he said. “If we offer it to them, more students will come here. If more students come here, our enrollment increases, which is a big benefit to the university.”
The program is especially appropriate for students who will enter UMFK with Early College or Advanced Placement credit, Cost said.
“Students apply to UMFK in their senior year,” he said. “If there are applicants who know they want to be teachers, we would encourage them to complete Early College or AP classes in high school. That way, they will enter the STARS program with college credits under their belts.”
Bruno Hicks, chair of UMFK’s Education Division, said the STARS program is going to attract students “set on being teachers” as well as “a more aggressive student.”
To qualify for the program, Hicks said, students will have to meet a number of standards. College officials will expect entering STARS students to have at least a 3.0 grade point average and be in the top 15 percent of their class. Letters of recommendation and a nomination from their guidance counselor also will be needed. Qualified students will have high SAT scores and will need to submit a portfolio detailing their academic success. Several other standards also must be met.
“This is going to attract an aggressive, dedicated type of student,” Hicks said Thursday. “The Education Division worked on this collectively, so we are very excited about this. I think this is not just going to attract students from The County, but from across the state and beyond.”
Hicks said the STARS program “will integrate teaching, service and experiential learning, all of which will prepare educators to become reflective scholars, classroom leaders and global citizens.”
President Cost said he believes any success UMFK sees from the program will prompt other campuses in the UMaine system to create similar initiatives.
He also said the college is exploring whether similar three-year bachelor’s degree programs could be created in other programs it offers, as well.