The number of out-of-state students slated to enroll at a University of Maine System school in the fall has grown from last year, system officials say.

Officials say four of the UMaine campuses are seeing increases in the number of out-of-state students, who pay almost three times more in tuition than in-staters.

“The out-of-state numbers look good,” said Rosa Redonnett, the chief student affairs officer for the system.

While the overall number of students enrolling at a UMaine school is down systemwide, commitments from out-of-state transfer and first-time students are up 9 percent, according to a June 15 report.

The Augusta campus has seen a 30 percent increase so far, Fort Kent a 17 percent increase, the University of Maine in Orono a 13.5 percent increase, and the University of Southern Maine a 7.5 percent increase, notes the report.

Systemwide, the number of enrollments for both first-time and transfer students is 3,989 so far for fall, down from 4,107 in the same period last year. Of the 2014 enrollments so far, 2,823 are in-state students, a drop from the 3,040 who had committed to a system school in the same period in 2013.

By contrast, the number of out-of-state students enrolled so far is 1,166, up from 1,067 in the same period last year.

The numbers at UMaine in Orono are particularly noteworthy, since it is the flagship campus and has the most students. The number of out-of-state commitments is up by 110 students, from 817 to 927, according to the report.

“If I were them, I would be really excited about that,” Redonnett said.

Tuition and fees total $10,700 a year for in-state students at UMaine in Orono and $27,970 for out-of-staters. At the University of Southern Maine, tuition and fees total $8,920 for in-state students and $21,280 for out-of-staters.

USM’s number of out-of-state enrollments stands at 185 so far, up from 158 last year during the same time period.

The enrollment figures, which are still being reported, are being closely watched as the university system navigates a multi-year financial crisis. Officials say that flat state funding, a tuition freeze and declining enrollments over the last several years have left them with few options to increase revenue and close the multimillion-dollar gaps that have become a regular part of the system budget.

“The only variable to increase income is enrollment, so it’s profoundly important,” said system Trustee Greg Johnson, the chairman of the academic and student affairs committee.

“This problem has been coming like a Mack truck for a long, long, time,” he said, citing a decline in the number of Maine’s high school-age students that has contributed to falling enrollments. “If (enrollment) decreases at all, it has a profound impact, even if it’s just one or two students.”

In May, the trustees approved a $529 million budget for 2014-15 that closed a $36 million deficit. The year before, the budget closed a shortfall of $42 million, and the year before, a gap of $43 million. Since 2007, the system has reduced its workforce by more than 650 full-time equivalent employees.

Now, the trustees have a draft five-year plan to close a projected $69 million budget deficit by 2019.

ELUSIVE ENROLLMENT TARGETS

The plan, however, assumes that each of the seven UMaine campuses will hit its enrollment targets. Only Augusta and Machias are now ahead of where they were last year.

Last year, USM enrolled 780 first-time students and 769 transfers. As of June 15, it had commitments from 709 first-timers and 552 transfers.

Despite the lower number of commitments so far, USM officials say they’re not worried.

“The numbers are looking pretty good,” said Susan Campbell, chief student affairs officer at USM. In-state numbers are down about 10 percent, but the jump in out-of-state offsets that, she said.

“I think (the numbers) reflect the effort we’ve been putting into the out-of-state students,” she said.

The dip in in-state enrollments at USM is significant since about 90 percent of the student body comes from Maine. The school has traditionally recruited in New England, but started branching out this year, visiting college fairs in other regions. Next year, recruitment officers will recruit in Florida, Minneapolis, Chicago and other areas, she said.

“We’re really reaching out beyond the region,” she said.

Final enrollment figures won’t be available until fall. But the June 15 figures are considered mostly complete for campuses like Orono and Farmington, where most of the students are of traditional college age, Redonnett said.

USM and UMaine Augusta are likely to see a large number of last-minute enrollments because they have more non-traditional, older students who tend to sign up later in the year, Redonnett said. Augusta, for example, may only have commitments so far from about 65 percent of its final fall enrollments.

Nationwide, enrollment at four-year public institutions went up very slightly in fall 2013 by 0.3 percent, after a decrease in enrollments the previous year, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

In Maine, systemwide enrollment dropped by 6.1 percent between 2009 and 2013. Enrollment dropped 5.2 percent at the Orono campus and by 7.6 percent at USM.

Both Orono and USM have since made recruiting more students a priority. And while the June 15 report includes only first-time and transfer students, admissions officers at all of the UMaine System campuses say they are increasing efforts to retain current students, a move that would also boost tuition revenue.

Like the other system campuses, the number of in-state students enrolling at the Orono campus is down. But officials say out-of-state students will more than make up that gap.

“Our efforts are paying off quite well,” said Jimmy Jung, vice president for enrollment management at UMaine. Those efforts include buying data from the College Board about students who take the SAT, which the College Board owns. Orono campus officials then mine the data to recruit students who fit the profile of those likely to attend UMaine. Jung said they’ve extended recruiting as far away as California.

Those efforts paid off with a fall 2013 freshman class that was the biggest in UMaine history. Jung said the university is poised to hit about the same number this fall.

“We are doing good,” Jung said.

A surge in applications at Orono – 11,454 compared to 9,223 last year – shows it is attracting more students through aggressive recruiting. Actual commitments are down 4 percent among first-time students, but up slightly among transfer students.

What’s important, Redonnett said, is the number of students committing, not the number applying, since many students apply to several colleges.

“At the end of the day, what matters is how many people are saying yes to you,” she said.

AHEAD OF THE REST

The system’s smallest campuses, the 892-student Machias and the 1,209-student Fort Kent, have particularly strong numbers so far, Redonnett said.

Fort Kent has also tried more targeted recruitment, pushing its nursing program to places like American Samoa and the Marshall Islands.

“Online is big for them, and nursing is big for them,” she said.

Fort Kent is down slightly in the number of first-time students, but has commitments from 166 transfer students, 25 percent more than last year at the same time.

Machias is the only campus in the system that is outpacing last year’s enrollment figures for both first-time and transfer students who have committed by putting down deposits. That’s the result of a major effort to turn around low enrollment numbers in recent years, officials say.

Machias has 125 first-time students committing, up 35 percent from 93 students at this same time last year. The number of transfers is up, too, from 48 last year to 51 this year.

“We live in a time where we cannot afford to cast our nets wide and hope they come to us,” said Melvin Adams, who was brought in a year ago to take over a combined position of dean of students and admissions. To boost enrollment, he started a targeted recruitment campaign that includes using social media for the first time, as well as a personal touch.

Machias has bought Facebook ads targeting 17- to 24-year-olds who have an interest in marine biology, looked at federal data to find names of students who indicated an interest in going to a small school, and started recruiting along the coasts of Florida, Texas and the Great Lakes region to lure potential students interested in marine biology.

Closer to home, Machias officials are also rebuilding neglected partnerships with Washington County schools.

“We lost our way in Washington County for a while,” Adams said. “(We) thought they’d come because they were local.”

Now Machias admissions officers are calling guidance counselors and bringing pies to “pie nights” at area high schools to help students with applications or financial aid forms to any college. For students accepted at Machias, Adams has attended their high school graduation to present them with scholarship certificates. Each incoming student also gets a personalized acceptance letter signed by Adams.

That effort has paid off: There are 107 Maine students committing to Machias this fall, 40 more than last year.

“We’ve changed from getting as many applications as we can to focusing strategically on schools where we can build solid relationships,” Adams said, noting that there have been 351 applications so far this year, down 20 percent from last year’s 439 applications. “Therefore what we’ve gotten is a higher yield on fewer applications.”

Redonnett said the numbers, while preliminary, were promising.

“To have such strong entering numbers is a really good thing,” she said. “I’m really excited about that.”