What is the point of having a connected system of universities if the institutions do not permit students to transfer academic credits? It was welcome — and long overdue — news, then, when the University of Maine System trustees approved a recommendation on Monday to pursue a plan to allow students to transfer credits between campuses.
Credit transfers will not only will make it easier — academically and financially — for students to finish their degrees if they have to move, but they will also hopefully strengthen collaboration across the system. The seven universities can retain their unique qualities as they become more integrated into the system as a whole.
Permitting students to move across majors and campuses, while retaining as many credits as possible, was also the intent of the University of Maine System 44 years ago. Chancellor James Page remembers his father, an original system trustee, discussing how to sort out the credit transfer system. The initiative is a long time coming.
There’s no doubt that all the universities are different, and they are used to carrying out their duties independently. Finding a way to transfer coursework — possibly for thousands of students — will be challenging. But, considering the best interests of the students, all the universities should wholeheartedly join in determining how to build an efficient transfer strategy.
Wilson Hess, president of the University of Maine at Fort Kent and chairman of the committee tasked with the transfer project, said a web-based system will help students navigate transfer options between campuses. The committee will work with campuses on the implementation process and will present the details to the trustees in January.
The duty before the campuses now is not only to determine the logistics of how to pair content but also to cooperate well with one another. This project failed before — when former Chancellor Michael Orenduff in 1995 called for a single course catalog that would allow courses and grades to be transferred. Faculty at all seven campuses voted that they had no confidence in his leadership. They criticized him for seeking to homogenize the campuses and for making decisions without consulting them.
The university system can learn from history and work closely with faculty and instructional support professionals at each campus to make sure their concerns are addressed. Communication is essential. This will be one of many future initiatives to pull together the universities in order to find efficiencies. Faculty and administrators shouldn’t expect the process to be easy or quick. But they should expect to collaborate to make sure the entire system remains competitive.
Of course, technology now makes the credit transfer process more streamlined. And the approach is different, taking into account varying rigor. The universities are not attempting to align all the majors and courses on all the campuses; they will focus, instead, on where their educational goals line up on general education classes. That means, instead of trying to pair equivalent classes at each campus, they will aim to match the common outcomes learned by the end of the courses.
The system serves more than 40,000 students. It accepts about 30 percent of Maine high school graduates who seek postsecondary education. Two-thirds of its alumni live in Maine. When the University of Maine System works well, the state benefits. Leaders should not let history or individual concerns get in the way of working on a plan to permit something as basic as credit transfers.