The president of the University of Maine at Farmington will spearhead an effort to streamline course offerings at the seven campuses in the university system in an attempt to broaden course access and cut costs.

Ultimately, students attending University of Maine System schools may take parts of their education at an assortment of institutions in the system, either in person or through the use of distance learning fostered by modern technology.

UMF President Kathryn Foster said she and her colleagues hope the system will move toward a division of labor among the universities in which individual campuses develop specializations that can be offered to students at other schools in the system. Ultimately, the system could adopt greater use of such strategies as long-distance learning or student exchanges, in which a student could take semesters at different campuses to benefit from a greater depth and breath at the various institutions.

“One concern people might have is that if you have just one menu, then all of the campuses will look the same,” Foster said. “Our intention and principle behind this is the opposite. It’s not to homogenize the campuses. It’s to differentiate.”

The course of study overhaul is part of a broader five-year strategic plan approved recently by the University of Maine System trustees. The plan could mean an overhaul over the next five years that would include closing a projected $69 million budget shortfall looming for 2019.

Foster, entering her third year as president, was named head of the committee after the former committee chairwoman, Susan Hunter, moved from vice chancellor to interim president of the University of Maine.

“It’s a big, big job,” Foster said.

All seven of the campuses have already been cutting costs and looking for savings individually, but Foster said one objective of the course plan is to make sure the campuses are working in concert.

“We will be taking a careful look at the academic menus across the campuses and see what the opportunities are to integrate,” she said.

The process will start with reviewing the course offerings and curriculum at the different campuses. Foster said she and her committee will oversee the efforts.

The plans developed by Foster’s group will ultimately go to the board of trustees for final approval.

She said the committee is charged with proposing a minimum of three pilot projects to test some of the new initiatives during the coming academic year. But Foster said she hopes the panel will go beyond that requirement.

“As a personal matter, I’m going to make sure we start out with more than three,” said Foster.

Proposals that are selected for implementation won’t have any practical impact until the following year’s budget cycle in late 2016.

“I think there is increasing understanding that we have to do things differently,” Foster said. “There is a great opportunity to do this as a collective.”

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