We Are Not Failures

By Ashley Berry
Liberal Arts Major

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Governor LePage, please hear us, the Maine Community College System is not a failure. If there is a failure it is your policy of flat funding the system, forcing out MCCS President Fitzsimmons who believed deeply in education and in his students. Placing blame solely on the MCCS for not enacting a transfer program with four-year institutions in Maine, specifically University of Maine-Orono, when there are plenty of programs with excellent transfer records with other schools, undermines and cheapens the quality education offered in the MCCS.
Your response at last week’s Eggs and Issues to the question of flat funding the MCCS, and the reasons for the decrease in funding was not only off-putting, but baffling. When you asked this question by Ralph Carmona, a Southern Maine Community College instructor, you responded, “I have never been one that likes to reward failure,” then cited an example of a tenured professor at USM who is also an adjunct at SMCC, whose class had the same book and same curriculum but that the credits were not transferable.
How can a system be deemed a failure by this one non-specific example?
Why not find actual students and ask them about their transfer experiences? It is the students who determine the success of a school, not one example of one class’s transferability.
Is it fair to determine the success of a system solely on the number of students that transfer to schools within Maine? Kate Sibole, the prior head of the Communications and New Media department at SMCC, does not agree, stating, “If a student wants to transfer to the UMaine system, then great. But it’s not for everyone. We can’t be dinged for helping students find their ideal match elsewhere.”
What if there is a school in another state that better meets the student’s needs or dreams? Does that mean the system is targeted and labeled as ineffective or as a failure?
That does not seem accurate and it certainly is not fair. In response to the critique of transferability to UMS system schools, Kate said, “So why exactly is it that our students have had seamless experiences transferring to Harvard, University of Southern California, Emerson, NESCOM, University of the Arts, The Art Institute of New England, The Art Institute of Florida, University of North Carolina, Montserrat, and University of Arizona? Is there something so much ‘better’ at 4 year colleges in Maine that allows them this Holy Grail complex?” Institutions of higher learning are supposed to foster learning, help students make good career decisions, and most importantly, to make the decisions that the student will be the most happy with.
Institutions of higher learning are not meant to be a pawn in the Governor’s politics.
There are many alumni of SMCC that have moved on to achieve extraordinary accomplishments both in and out of Maine. These students, who one would think would be offended to know they are thought of as the product of a failed school system, had only good things to say about SMCC.
We are not failures, we are champions for producing success in the face of a governor who wants nothing more than to condemn us for not conforming exactly to his policies, as though he is the only person who knows how to run an education system. We ask you to think, do some research, and find real evidence before making these failure claims.
The success of students with experiences at MCCS, and students who have had negative experiences with UMaine schools, is not the fault of the MCCS. SMCC graduate, Rachel Fisk, was asked about her transfer experience between SMCC and USM and said, “I went to SMCC after I attended USM for some years and changed my major. After completing two years at SMCC, I transferred back to USM into the art department where they accepted all my credits but not as art. After two long months trying to get that taken care of I was able to finish up my education with a BFA. The art department at USM was great but the new media transfer was horrible and I was extremely disappointed. If I did not attend SMCC and take classes in CNMS I don’t know where I would be! Because of the education I received from SMCC I now have a job in marketing.”
After finishing her degree at USM, Rachel came back to SMCC to work as the Unit Marketing Coordinator for Sodexo Food Services. When events are put on in the dining hall and in the Seawolves Café, it is Rachel that organizes them. SMCC was such a fantastic place to go to school and offered her such a superior education that she chose to come back here to work; that really shows what a first-rate institution this is and the lasting impact the school has on students.
Victor Rios, who is also an alumnus of SMCC and USM, shared his thoughts: “…USM is a good school, but my experience at SMCC was better than that at USM. I was able to apply more of what I learned to the goal I was trying to achieve. Plus, Randy Visser, a now retired professor, referred someone for me to reach out to and talk about my business before I even started it. He believed in what I was doing and went out of his way to help me. Currently I own my own business as a designer and consultant, and I also offer my services through contract work. SMCC helped me achieve this. So thank you Kate Sibole and all of the SMCC faculty for all your hard work while I was attending SMCC. It has not, nor ever will be forgotten. ”
SMCC is not just about credits transferring to other schools. SMCC is about the experience a student has going to a school where the faculty and staff care about the student’s goals and will go out of their way to help them achieve them. As Kate Sibole so beautifully illustrated, “It’s the experiential qualities that can’t be assessed and easily measured and squished into a credit box that satisfies other institutional policies. That, right there, is our SMCC zeitgeist.”

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