PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — One year ago, the University of Maine at Presque Isle gave students from the Maine School of Science and Mathematics an opportunity to earn a significant amount of college credit before graduating from high school.
The program has been so successful, Ray Rice, UMPI provost and vice president for academic and student affairs, said on Thursday, that the college has now opened it up to five other high schools across Aroostook County, with a sixth school coming on board this fall.
The pacts allow students to earn college credits from UMPI for some of the more academically rigorous courses they are taking in high school.
“These agreements really have opened up doors for students in Aroostook County, and I think that is what I am most proud of,” Rice said. “Students are able to get a head start on college, and their parents are saving a significant amount on college tuition.”
The dual-degree agreement UMPI and MSSM officials signed in February 2015 now recognizes 43 courses taught at the high school as college-level quality, allowing participating students to work on their high school diploma while simultaneously earning credits toward an associate or bachelor’s degree at UMPI.
Under the partnership, for instance, a course such as multivariable calculus that is taught at the magnet school is the equivalent of Calculus III at UMPI, while Early British Literature at MSSM translates to Studies in Earlier English Literature at the university.
At $15 per credit hour, a 64-credit associate degree could cost students and their families less than $1,000, amounting to a 93 percent savings over the traditional cost of a similar course load for Maine residents attending UMPI, according to campus officials.
Rice said that last year, MSSM students took the equivalent of 174 UMPI classes while at the same time pursuing a high school degree at the Limestone magnet school. This year, 600 equivalent classes are being taken by MSSM students, again because many students are taking more than one college-level course.
“It has been very popular among our students,” Luke Shorty, executive director at MSSM, said Monday. “They were excited from the very beginning, and new students began asking about it immediately.”
Based on the initial success of the MSSM program, UMPI began opening the agreement up to other programs in The County. In May 2015, campus officials signed an agreement with Caribou High School and the Caribou Regional Technology Center in RSU 39, allowing their students to earn credits from UMPI in 21 college-level courses.
Under the agreement between the college and RSU 39, for example, students who successfully complete AP Psychology at the high school receive college credit for its course equivalency at UMPI, Psychology 100. In addition, those who complete a yearlong course such as Senior English receive two semesters’ worth of college credit, for UMPI’s English 101 and English 151.
According to statistics provided by the university, 139 Caribou students currently are taking at total of 244 college-level classes.
Rice said similar agreements are now signed between the college and Houlton High School, Hodgdon High School and Central Aroostook High School in Mars Hill. Presque Isle High School will be joining the partnership this fall and has petitioned to have 17 courses qualify for college credit.
“This is a huge accomplishment for us,” said Rice. “Back in 2013, we didn’t have any agreements at all with any schools. Now, we are advancing on six. This lets us partner with high schools in a really comprehensive way. The students taking part are virtually all from Aroostook County, which is another thing I am very proud of.”
Shorty said there are some MSSM students who take “three or four college classes” at a time, and there have been few logistical issues with either the implementation of the program or with students having problems balancing course loads.
Rice said that several faculty members who teach at UMPI also teach at MSSM. Dr. Zhu-Qi Lu, who teaches chinese to MSSM students, is also an UMPI mathematics professor. Don Cyr, an art instructor at MSSM, also is an adjunct faculty member at UMPI.
“I think it is a testament to the quality of the UMPI and MSSM instructors and our hardworking students that this has worked out so well,” Shorty said.
The executive director added that schools in other parts of the nation also have expressed interest in the program, having learned about it from former MSSM instructors.
“I am pretty excited that we led the way on this with UMPI,” he said. “If more schools and universities can work together, we can save more money for the state and for families. It would be wonderful.”