Beginning this fall, many admitted students to Southern Maine Community College will be in for a very pleasant – and meaningful – surprise. They will be informed that upon successful completion of their associate degree at SMCC that they will be admitted to the University of Southern Maine without even having to apply.

It’s all part of a new agreement between the two schools called Connected Pathways. In real terms, it means that upon graduation from SMCC, students who successfully complete Connected Pathways requirements can enroll at USM without having to go through the USM admissions process. The aim is to provide more students with an affordable and personalized path to success – a partnership that benefits students and the community.

For the students, moving from SMCC to USM will now be easier and more seamless than ever. And well before they ever enroll at USM, they’ll get one-on-one guidance. There is already in place a dedicated USM staff person whose job it is to answer all questions, ease the transition to USM, guide students in any way they need and advise them along their way to receiving their bachelor’s degree.

Connected Pathways has been made possible by the work being done statewide between our community college and university systems to streamline the transfer process, reduce costs for students and speed their time to degree completion.

Connected Pathways builds on these efforts and will be immediately available to newly accepted students in selected SMCC programs. The programs were selected, because they offer a clear path to a similar USM program. Over 600 SMCC students are now enrolled in these programs.

For students who are enrolling in an SMCC program that has no equivalent at USM, the staffs at both USM and SMCC are working diligently to expand the Connected Pathways opportunity to as many SMCC students as possible. Also, USM is ready and eager right now to work with every SMCC student – regardless of program – who is interested in enrolling at USM. USM can find a place for you.

As provost of USM and dean of academic affairs at SMCC, the two of us are excited about Connected Pathways because it is removing hurdles and paperwork for students, offering seamless support that follows the student from one institution to another, and ensures a smooth path that makes transfer simple and straightforward.

And, in the end it will save our students time and money.

In short, this is a uniquely innovative student-centered effort where we are partnering to better support our students and ensure their success from start to finish.

Proud as we are of Connected Pathways, however, it is not the only example of SMCC and USM working in partnership to ensure student success. It is, in fact, just the latest in a series of undertakings we have embarked on together. For example:

Starting this fall, a new faculty member will be shared between the schools. The new faculty member will chair SMCC’s hospitality management and culinary arts programs while teaching courses in both SMCC’s hospitality management program and USM’s tourism and hospitality program. This represents not just an efficient use of resources, but will also strengthen the relationship between the two schools’ programs.

Last spring, our two schools’ admissions, advising and student support staff were proud to play a leading role with community agencies to organize a special event to help our refugee population navigate the college application and financial aid process.

Last year, SMCC assisted USM in developing the USM Bridge Program, modeled after SMCC’s My Success program, which had been successfully implemented the previous year. Both programs work intensely with incoming freshmen to prepare them for the academic and social transition from high school to higher education.

Since 2009, USM and SMCC have also supported each other in seeking federal TRIO Student Support Services grants, despite actually being competitors for limited funding.

With respect to all these student support programs and activities, USM and SMCC staff work in close consultation with each other, sharing information and best practices.

The partnership between SMCC and USM on all levels has matured and grown over the years. Where at one time we may have felt like competitors for the same students, today our relationship has shifted to something far richer and rewarding.

From the staff to the faculty to the presidents’ offices at both SMCC and USM, there is no commitment we hold greater than ensuring student success. It is and must be what we are all about, and to do that well, it is clear we must act as partners.

And so we do.