Kelcey Thornton (right), a senior at the University of Maine, gets help from her friend Georgia Baber as she moves her belongings out of Oak Hall on the University of Maine campus in March 2020.

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Maine’s public university students stuck with their classes to the end this semester at about the same rate as they did a year ago, even as all classes shifted online about halfway through the semester.

Some 98.5 percent of the 27,266 students enrolled in university system programs at the start of the spring 2020 semester stuck with their coursework, according to newly released data from the university system. That’s about the same percentage as the spring 2019 semester, which wasn’t interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. In addition, fewer courses saw withdrawals this semester than a year ago.

[Our COVID-19 tracker contains the most recent information on Maine cases by county]

In an unprecedented shift in higher education, the University of Maine System’s seven universities and law school, as well as other colleges in the state, moved all classes to remote instruction in mid-March and asked students to leave campus. That directive came even before the coronavirus pandemic officially hit Maine.

The university system allowed more students to choose a pass-fail grading option for classes this semester so they could continue earning credits without hurting grade point averages or their eligibility for financial aid. More than 4,600 undergraduate students across the system chose that option for at least one class.

While the university system is planning for a return to in-person instruction in the fall, the final decision will depend on the state of the pandemic in late summer, university officials have said.

When UMaine music students Kelcey Thornton and Georgia Baber had to leave campus in March, they were concerned that the quality of their education would suffer.

Two months later, Thornton, a senior from Readfield, had finished six of the seven music education classes in which she was enrolled for the spring semester while Baber finished all nine. (Many music education classes are not full-credit classes.) But neither was satisfied with the way they finished them.

Baber, a junior from Gorham, said she didn’t learn much from taking music classes remotely.

“It was very difficult, and led to a lot of assignments being made easier to the point where we weren’t learning anything at all. We were just doing work for the sake of staying active in the class,” she said. “My personal semester with remote learning was very stressful, and I’m glad it is over. Not everyone’s learning style is right for online classes, and mine certainly is not one of them.”

Some of Thornton’s and Baber’s classes ended up not meeting by Zoom. For others, they had to take incomplete grades, take the class pass-fail, or just accept the grades they had before the transition to remote learning happened as their final grades.

Thornton, who will return for her final semester in fall, said she hopes classes will happen in person. She studies music education, and only has the fall 2020 semester left to learn what she needs to to be able to teach schoolchildren.

“We learn everything hands-on by participating in activities, playing instruments or singing,” she said. “Some of the classes I’m taking in the fall 100 percent can’t be done online. I don’t really have the option to take a year off with the loan program I have.”

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