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UMaineGOLD to Develop New Online Graduate Course Standards

The University of Maine Graduate School is creating a framework for a new standard of online graduate programs. The initiative, called UMaineGOLD, will allow current graduate programs to achieve the UMaineGOLD label if they reach specific benchmarks.

The UMaineGOLD initiative is being created by the Graduate School, the Division of Lifelong Learning and the University of Maine. Programs have the option of applying for the UMaineGOLD label.

On Nov. 29, Vice President for Research and Dean of the Graduate School, Kody Varahramyan; and Associate Provost for the Division of Lifelong Learning, Monique LaRocque; held an open meeting to discuss UMaineGOLD in Room 57 of Stodder Hall.

Varahramyan laid out the goals of the initiative. He said that increasing revenue and growth is vital, especially due to a downward trend of graduate enrollment over the last decade. This trend has reversed somewhat in 2016 and 2017, according to the fiscal year 2019 General and Education Budget materials, but enrollment is still far below what it was in the early 2010s.

Varahramyan also expressed the need for these online programs to meet state, national and global needs, and increase research capabilities and interdisciplinary work.

One goal of UMaine through the UMaineGOLD initiative is “to be the Premier Provider of graduate education” in the state, according to Varahramyan.

UMaine will implement a revenue sharing model for programs that qualify for UMaineGOLD. The model will allocate $200 per student enrolled in a three-credit course toward an account for the department.

The model differs from the normal budget in that a fraction of tuition revenue is allocated more directly to the department based on the department’s success in boosting enrollment. The model will be implemented the semester after programs achieve the standards.

LaRocque explained how the online degrees must also be flexible for working professionals with difficult schedules.

“Our goal really is to provide access,” LaRocque said.

LaRocque went on to discuss the efforts of the Division of Lifelong Learning team working on UMaineGOLD. The team has been investigating the needs of the state and the needs of potential students, which often differ, according to LaRocque.

Another topic of concern is ensuring that UMaineGOLD students have access to Fogler Library and tutoring. The team is also considering ways to help UMaineGOLD professors with their technology needs.

LaRocque also expressed that she hopes every UMaine graduate program will apply for UMaineGOLD. The Center of Innovation in Teaching and Learning will assist faculty from existing online courses in achieving the standards necessary for UMaineGOLD status.

“We wanted to make sure there was an incentive for our existing online Programs,” LaRocque said.

The University and the Division for Lifelong Learning expect existing online programs that apply this year to be ready to be labeled UMaineGOLD between December 2019 and January 2020.

Some of the criteria that departments must meet include an orientation toward professional degrees, roughly 30-credit programs and interdisciplinary work. Departments must also provide data on the market demand for their course.

UMaineGOLD will include an internal grant program to support the implementation of UMaineGOLD programs.

The grants will cover a nine-month maximum period and award $15,000 for online graduate certificate programs, and $30,000 for online graduate degree programs. The team is moving forward “with the hope that the program will be ready to launch… in nine months,” LaRocque explained.

LaRocque expects the grants to run annually until all the current online programs achieve UMaineGOLD status.

The UMaineGOLD initiative team expects to publish the specific metrics of their standards on a UMaineGOLD website in the next two weeks.

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