Distance education should stay intact

Posted Dec. 08, 2009, at 5:04 p.m.

The University of Maine Distance Education System was created because the University of Maine System felt there was need for higher education in rural areas. The University College at Rockland, formed in 1976, is one of these distance education centers.

In 2007, the center moved to its current location on the fourth floor of the Breakwater Marketplace in Rockland. The move has greatly benefited the college. The student population has increased, now breaking the 600 mark. URock has recently been renovated to include a new study lounge, high-capacity classroom and videoconference classroom in addition to the 10 classrooms, computer lab and art studio already in place. The cost for this expansion was not taken from URock or UMS revenue. The money was raised from private sources.

Questions are being asked about the economic viability and sustainability of the university system. Mainers should be concerned that some feel the way to save money is to shrink the physical sites of the distance education system. This would stop the flow of income some centers are contributing to the system. Net revenue from URock alone was $891,692 in 2008. Nine centers throughout the state contribute revenue to the system. University College at Bath-Brunswick’s net revenue was $426,630 in 2008. Closing the Rockland and Bath-Brunwsick centers would cost UMS $1.3 million in net revenue.

Economic and educational benefits are severely limited if we rely on two major UMS campuses — the University of Maine and the University of Southern Maine — as suggested by Thomas Aceto in the column “UMS self-study issues not being openly addressed” (BDN, Nov. 9). URock was very efficient during the period of summer 2008 to spring of 2009 with a student-to-staff ratio of 128-to-1, with a per-student cost of $1,231. This center is profitable and able to earn money that goes directly to other campuses with higher overhead costs in need of its support. The University of Maine System should work together, not help or hurt one campus or delivery system over another.

The centers run by the University of Maine at Augusta have a great management system. UMA courses are available to many distance education centers as on-site, interactive television, videoconferencing, or online courses. The availability and affordability of the courses are main reasons many people in rural parts of Maine at-tain an education at all. Though the majority of students appear to be enrolled at UM and USM, some of those students are distance education students. That means they take a course at a location such as Rockland or Bath-Brunswick, but the course is offered and accredited by either UM or USM. The cohesiveness of the system working together is what allows a student to attend classes in Rockland or Bath-Brunswick, but to be considered students of USM or UM. The statewide system provides a greater choice of courses to students.

There are many opportunities for the system to become more efficient with costs. One suggestion would be to re-evaluate how the system works together rather than to close any locations. In fact, in his UMS restructuring plan, Chancellor Richard Pattenaude emphasized the continuation and importance of distance education. There are many students who take distance education courses only because they are more affordable and accessible than either UM or USM campus courses. Some people can afford only one class at a time or cannot travel long distances. The flexibility of these locations is why they become educated. The distance education program is not about course offerings; we want full degrees.

Again, we are an entire system. There should be no competitiveness among locations. The distance education system does not steal students from any other major campuses. If anything, Maine students are encouraged to continue on in higher education by using the whole system.

Nicole Harriman is a nursing major. Evan Grant is a liberal studies major. Steve Heddericg is a nursing major. All attend University College at Rockland.

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