Fewer students enrolled in the University of Maine System this fall compared to last year, but the seven-campus system more than made up for it financially with a nearly 8 percent increase in out-of-state students, who pay significantly higher tuition.

According to the latest fall enrollment data, overall enrollment is 28,187 students, down 1.3 percent from a year ago, while out-of-state enrollment of 5,202 students is up 7.8 percent.

That’s an improvement over last year’s early fall enrollment figures, when overall enrollment was down 2.7 percent, and out-of-state enrollment was up 5.6 percent. Final enrollment figures will be available in mid-October, after the deadline to add or drop classes.

“The initiatives that the campuses have been doing around out-of-state recruitment are really good,” Chancellor James Page said. “We’re going to take what works and build on them as long as they work and adjust our strategies in a very nimble way.”

Two of the system’s campuses, in Orono and Fort Kent, reported enrollment increases over last year, while the others posted declines. The University of Southern Maine saw enrollment decline about 1 percent from last year, but USM President Glenn Cummings said he expects to close that gap to zero as last-minute students enroll.

The focus on growing enrollment is critical for the system, which is emerging from years of financial turmoil. Over the last five years, the system has been sharply focused on cutting costs and increasing revenue, even as it faced declining enrollment amid a tuition freeze and a state funding freeze. Hundreds of positions were eliminated and whole academic departments cut, and an ambitious overhaul of academic and back-office departments is going on to stabilize system finances.

But the financial bottom line this fall is positive, since the decline in overall enrollment is slowing and the system is getting additional revenue from out-of-state students, many of whom pay more than twice as much as in-state students.

“Out-of-state credit hour growth at several of our campuses has the potential to offset and in some cases even exceed revenue declines attributed to lower in-state enrollments. Every dollar of additional out-of-state revenue strengthens our public education system,” said Ryan Low, the system’s chief financial officer.

Over the last five years, systemwide enrollment has declined 9 percent, from 31,012 in fall 2012. Over the same period, out-of-state enrollment increased 31 percent, from 3,966 students to 5,202. In-state enrollment declined 15 percent, from 27,046 students to 22,985.

These are key metrics for the system’s long-term planning, as the system receives almost all revenue from state subsidies and tuition.

five-year financial projection, issued late last year, forecast a 2020 budget gap of $22.4 million. But that projection relies on certain assumptions, including enrollment increasing 1.5 percent a year and annual increases in tuition and the state’s subsidy tied to the rate of inflation.

In-state tuition and fees are about $10,606 at Orono and $8,450 at USM. For out-of-state students, tuition and fees are about $30,000 per year. Room and board adds on about another $10,000 a year.

Some out-of-state students pay less, either under Orono’s new “flagship match” tuition plan or the longtime regional rate of 150 percent of in-state tuition offered to students in nearby states and Canada under a regional agreement.

The flagship match program allows students to pay only what their home state’s flagship university would have charged them as an in-state student. In every case, that is more than UMaine’s in-state tuition but less than they would have paid without the program.

That program helped boost UMaine’s figures and finances, Provost Jeff Hecker said. Overall enrollment there is up 1.6 percent to 11,077 students. Out-of-state students now make up 30 percent of the overall student body. This fall’s incoming class of 2,300 students is 44 percent from out-of-state, compared to only 16 percent five years ago.

That increase in out-of-state students is particularly important because Maine has a steady decrease of high school graduates, a result of the state’s aging demographics. In 2010, there were more than 14,000 Maine high school graduates. In 2015, the number was 12,365. By 2020, the figure is expected to be around 12,000.

Hecker said UMaine plans to expand the flagship match program next year to California and Illinois, which have raised in-state tuition in recent years.

“It’s a challenge having flat tuition in (Maine), but it is in a way an advantage because other states have really increased their in-state tuition,” Hecker said. “We’re benefiting from those decisions.”

Massachusetts native Tim Ryan said he decided to attend the University of Maine after hearing about the flagship match program online.

“The big thing for me was I didn’t want to have any debt when I graduated,” said Ryan, a freshman. After some scholarship aid, it’s cheaper for him to go to Orono than stay in Massachusetts, he said.

UMaine doesn’t plan to increase its overall out-of-state enrollment beyond about 45 percent, Hecker said. It has not resulted in any Maine student being turned away, he said.

Over the years, UMaine has maintained a steady proportion of Maine high school graduates: Of the roughly one-third of the Maine high school graduates that go on to college, about half attend UMaine, he said.

USM SEES INCREASE TOO

Even without a “flagship match” program, USM saw a 9.5 percent increase in out-of-state students this fall largely because of college price hikes elsewhere and USM’s focused marketing and recruitment efforts.

New Hampshire’s tuition and fees alone are now $15,160, so the regional rate at USM – about $14,350 – is less expensive. Massachusetts has annual tuition and fees of $11,590, before adding in room and board costs.

Out-of-state students make up 17 percent of the incoming class at USM, and are now about 8 percent of the overall student body.

The uptick in out-of-state students means tuition revenue is up at USM by almost 1 percent, Cummings said.

“That’s what we’ve been trying to measure. That’s our best barometer,” he said.

To capture more of the out-of-state market, USM plans to launch a modified version of the flagship match program next year. The “Mountains to the Sea” program for Vermont and New Hampshire students will match the in-state rate of local public universities comparable to USM: Castleton University in Vermont and Keene State College in New Hampshire.

Other fall enrollment data:

UMaine-Fort Kent increased enrollment by almost 5 percent, from 1,355 students last year to 1,420 students this year. Fort Kent is one of the smaller campuses, in far northern Maine, but it boosted out-of-state enrollment by 26 percent, to 191 students. Officials credit the increase to the strength of their nursing program and the targeted recruitment of students from community colleges and technical high schools.

UMaine Farmington reported a decline of about 1 percent compared to the same time last year. UMaine Augusta and UMaine Machias both decreased about 7 percent, and UMaine Presque Isle dropped 12 percent. System spokesman Dan Demeritt said Augusta and Presque Isle are likely to see more late enrollment activity because they have a large number of older, nontraditional students who tend to enroll later.


Correction: This story was revised at 10:11 a.m., Sept. 12, 2016, to reflect that out-of-state students in the flagship match program pay more than UMaine’s in-state tuition but less than they would have paid without the program. An earlier version of this story had incorrect information.