In a bid to attract students who have some college experience but no degree, the University of Maine at Presque Isle is offering a new online business administration degree for a flat fee of $2,000 per semester – less than half the usual $9,000 annual cost of tuition, fees and books.

Quietly announced to local employers in the region, the program is already attracting interest, officials said Monday.

“I’m overjoyed. I have had three days of person after person coming to me, asking about it, signing up,” said Caroline Dorsey-Durepo, an associate professor of business management who set up the program. She contacted human resource departments at MMG Insurance, The Aroostook Medical Center and Katahdin Trust Co. to let them know about the program for their employees.

To qualify, students must be 24 years of age or older, with the equivalent of a high school diploma, plus some college credit and work experience.

Officials estimate there are 200,000 Mainers who have some college but no degree. In recent years, educators and politicians have increasingly raised this issue amid concerns about the lack of skilled workers in Maine combined with an aging workforce hitting retirement age.

“Maine faces a silver tsunami as a vast generation of our citizens approach retirement,” University of Maine System Chancellor James Page said in a statement. “By 2025, our state’s economy will require 158,000 more workers with a postsecondary degree or credential than exist today. This critical workforce need will only be met if we are successful in advancing more Maine adults to degree completion.”

The UMPI program, Page said, “will be the fastest, most affordable path to a fully-accredited degree that has ever been available in Maine.”

Multiple colleges are offering new certificate programs or degree completion programs to attract older students or workers who want to finish their degrees. However, because most of them have jobs and families, it is harder to attend college or move. Online education has been seen as key to attracting these students.

“Our new program is specifically designed to meet the needs of this group of Mainers, or any adults across the nation in a similar situation,” UMPI President Ray Rice said.

The UMPI program uses “competency-based” education, which means students don’t take broad subject-based courses. Instead, they are individually assessed at the beginning of the program and given a list of competencies they need to acquire through online “modules,” which are more like mini-courses to get drilled-down slices of a subject.

For example, instead of taking Intro to Accounting, a student is assessed for such competencies as “demonstrate understanding” of double-entry accounting and of the purpose and content of the four principal financial statements: balance sheets; income statement; cash flow statement and statement of retained earnings.

The materials will then focus on the areas a student doesn’t know, Dorsey-Durepo said.

“It’s part of how you can reduce your time,” she said. It also allows students to get credit for material learned on the job instead of at school, she said.

The online materials are provided by Sagence Learning, but are reviewed and buttressed with material from UMPI professors, she said. Students will interact with at least three UMPI employees: a “success coach” who works like a concierge and sets the person up for instruction; a faculty member who oversees the instruction and is available within 24 hours to a student; and a person who does assessment.

This model, which breaks down traditional learning and instruction into components for online education, is used at other colleges such as Western Governors University, Kaplan University and Southern New Hampshire University.

 

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