AUGUSTA – New liberal studies students in Maine’s community colleges will be guaranteed admission to any University of Maine System school under a new agreement announced Wednesday by Gov. John Baldacci and two leaders of state higher education systems.

The new Guaranteed Admission Agreement, dubbed AdvantageU by officials, is expected to help thousands of community college students earn full four-year degrees.

A transfer program will be available for community college students admitted this fall. Community college students will get the benefits of early advising and a streamlined application process, and will pay no application fees. In addition, they will be able to register for advanced courses with continuing university students.

Baldacci, who made the announcement with UMaine System Chancellor Joseph Westphal and Community College President John Fitzsimmons, said the agreement supports his administration’s goal of breaking down barriers to a college education in Maine.

“This is vital to our state because access to good-paying jobs with benefits in this ‘knowledge-based economy’ is more and more reliant on higher education,” Baldacci said in a prepared statement. “Education is a key element of our future economy and competitiveness.”

Westphal said the AdvantageU program represents an unprecedented level of collaboration between the community college and university systems.

“Improving the ease with which students transfer from community college to university is a major milestone in making the attainment of a four-year degree a reality for more Maine students,” the chancellor said.

Currently, community colleges have about 80 articulation agreements with Maine’s public universities. Most are limited, program-to-program and school-to-school. At Central Maine Community College, for example, liberal studies graduates have been automatically admitted to the University of Southern Maine, but only that university.

Now they will also be guaranteed admission to the University of Maine in Orono, the University of Maine at Farmington or any other university campus.

Fitzsimmons said the new AdvantageU program will help the community college system achieve its goal of increasing the number of students transferring into the universities from 1,700 to 3,000 within the next few years.

Although admission is guaranteed, AdvantageU does have eligibility standards, including a 2.5 grade point average and an enrollment cap at the university’s Farmington campus.

The University of Maine System has more than 34,300 students enrolled in seven campuses and several more outreach centers and more than 100 interactive distance education sites.

The community college system has seven colleges and eight off-campus centers serving more than 11,000 credit students and 10,000 students in noncredit courses and contract training. Liberal studies is the system’s largest program, enrolling about 30 percent of students.

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