Two Maine schools banded together to to focus on the state’s tourism industry, allowing students to transition from a two-year to a four-year degree in the field of hospitality and tourism.

Tourism is $7.7 billion industry in Maine, according to the Maine Office of Tourism.

The University of Southern Maine and Southern Maine Community College on Monday signed an agreement that allows students who complete the associate’s degree in hospitality management at SMCC to be able to apply credits earned towards a bachelor’s degree in USM’s new tourism and hospitality program. The agreement makes it possible for the SMCC students to complete the USM degree in only two additional years.

“With SMCC providing the practical hospitality skills and USM the broader educational options, we’ll be graduating well-rounded students capable of helping to advance our industry to a true world-class level,”  Steve Hewins, vice president of travel products and services at AAA New England.

The agreement marks a step towards aligning programs throughout the throughout the University of Maine System and Maine Community College System.

Under the programs, both new to their respective institutions, students will study a range of issues, such as business management, marketing, sustainable tourism and tourism development, nature-based tourism, and event management. Students also will complete one or multiple internships in the industry.

“It’s no secret that hospitality and tourism are vital to Maine’s economy,” said SMCC President Ron Cantor. “We congratulate USM on its new program and are proud to link SMCC’s hospitality program with it.”