Thomas College: Leaning into change for Maine’s students

This article is a part of our Leaning Into Change series. Topics are meant to inspire conversation leading up to our 2016 Summit in Waterville. Registration is now open. Follow along with #GrowSmartME.

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Thomas College President Laurie Lachance, presenting at the GrowSmart Maine Summit on October 19. Photo courtesy of Thomas College.

If you graduated or attended college, think about how different curriculum has changed since you left. The technology even changes as quickly as the yearly iPhone update. Students face a plethora of options, and first generation students often face another series of obstacles aside from just figuring out which building their classroom is in. According to a 2015 report by the Mitchell Institute “the proportion of Maine public high school graduates enrolling directly in college has increased from 57% of the class of 2006 to 62% of the class of 2014. Among college-going students, 71% enrolled in a Maine institution in 2014—up from 67% in 2006—and 29% enrolled in institutions outside Maine.” However, within 6 years, only 56.6% of those same students will have actually completed a degree. First-generation students have it even harder to reach the four year pinnacle: according to the Pell institute, only 11% of first-generation, low-income students will have a degree within six years of enrolling in college.

The threats to small town universities are at every corner: competitive marketplace, student debt, changing technology, student drop-out, entrepreneurship, and changing curriculum. Here are 20 ways Thomas College takes the challenge and leans into change.

  1. Hiring an economist (and alumnae) as college President
    Laurie Lachance’s background is anything but traditional to that of most college presidents, however, her experience as an economist means she can address community based issues that affect the majority of students who seek to attend Thomas. She is able to balance the needs of all stakeholders – students, faculty, community, and business owners – all while making sure that all are symbiotic in the ecosystem. Her background as an alumnae is an even bigger testament to the potential of Thomas College’s students.
  2. Guaranteed Job Program
    They’ll even pay your student loans if you don’t land a job after graduation OR let you start your graduate degree for free, but 94% of Thomas graduates have a job within 90 days of graduation.
  3. The Thomas Cup
    This event, open to high-school and home-school students, is an all-nighter where students compete in robot Nerf wars, cyber security capture the flag, CSI competition, and gaming. It promotes innovation, problem-solving, critical think, and technology in a fun, competitive atmosphere.
  4. Small classroom sizes focus on student success.
    18 students for every 1 professor.
  5. Setting students up for success with the EDGE program.
    For many of Maine’s first generation college students, the first year of college is even more challenging. These students are setup for the first year of school with the EDGE program. Students arrive ten days early, take and complete a complete college course, and receive mentorship and tutoring. How did Thomas College come up with this unique program? Data. They recognized patterns among first generation students with similar socio-econmic backgrounds were more likely to drop-out.
  6. 99% of students who apply for financial assistance receive an award.
  7. Integrating art into STEM.
    Rather than just teaching regular science, technology, engineering, and math for Maine’s future educators, Thomas College embraces STEAM – integrating Art into education. An art focuses allows students to look at problems from the perspective of a designer or artist. Thomas College is the only college in Maine to provide this program.
  8. Focusing future educators on the success of every student.
    The Proficiency Based Learning approach takes into count that future educators should be able to teach multiple students who are progressing at a variety of paces.
  9. Digging deeper into fields of study.
    Forensic Accounting and Forensic Psychology are just two examples of how Thomas College is expanding beyond the typical fields of study.
  10. Partnering with local business to understand and meet their professional needs.
    President Lachance shared that after some discussions with local hospitals, the hospitals needed more healthcare business management professionals. This feedback helped Thomas College launch a new graduate degree program. In addition, Thomas College partnered with local information technology firm Collaborative Consulting to train students to take on the 200+ jobs the company will need to fill. This partnership uses the college as a launch pad for high paying tech careers that will be essential to overall economic growth.
  11. Making school more affordable with a 3 year undergraduate degree, 4 year graduate degree.
    You can complete an undergraduate degree at Thomas College in 3 years. This keeps your cost low, keeps the college’s costs low, and gets students into the workforce faster.
  12. A female President.
    Within higher education, only 26% of the college presidents in the U.S. are women while more than 57% of the students in colleges and universities are women.
  13. Submitting an ACT and SAT for admissions is optional.
    The college’s data found that neither scores were an indicator of student success.
  14. Graduate students can get their MBA in 10-months.
  15. Programs for student-veterans
    While the Post-9/11 GI Bill covers most college education, Thomas College chooses to participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program to further assist Maine’s student-veterans in attending the college.
  16. Offering Associates Degrees in high school.
    Thomas College partnered with Maranacook High School to create the Pathways Program. Pathways allows high school juniors and seniors to work towards their associates degree. This program comes at no-cost to the student, and it is a direct action to bring more of Maine students into the college ecosystem.
  17. Thomas College assigns a peer mentor to every single student.
    This takes buddy system education to a whole new level.
  18. Childhood education + business management.
    Childcare is not often thought of as an entrepreneurial venture, but this one-two punch of two majors gives Maine’s future early childhood educators an extra boost by empowering them with the knowledge to manage and run their own businesses while providing quality childhood that meets all education standards.
  19. Connected campus.
    Thomas College has made WiFi a top priority to meet the needs of students. When students think of IT on college campus, they associate it with WiFi connectivity.
  20. Jobs for Maine Graduates Program
    The partnership program gives at-risk students an even better opportunity to gain access to the college classroom. JMG identifies students who face barriers to education and provides them with the support they need, up to and beyond high school graduation, to overcome those barriers. President Lachance said the college and JMG are perfectly aligned because both organizations ensure students gain skills that are valued by today’s employers, not just earn a diploma or degree.