October 20, 2013

Maine public universities face mandate to get numbers up

As enrollments plummet and competition spikes, recruiters search harder than ever for prospective students

By Noel K. Gallagher ngallagher@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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Students dine in the cafeteria Wednesday at the University of Southern Maine in Gorham.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

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Students and faculty members cross the mall at the University of Maine in Orono last week. Amid increasing competition, college recruiters are focusing on nontraditional students and those from other New England states as they try to boost Maine’s falling enrollment numbers.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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The problem has been years in the making, according to Rosa Redonnett, who oversees the UMaine System’s enrollment as executive director of student affairs. The drop in enrollment, she said, is tied directly to Maine’s aging demographics.

In 2008, there were more than 14,000 Maine high school graduates. In 2012, the number was 13,042. And by 2020, the figure is expected to be around 12,000, Redonnett said.

The silver lining for recruiters is that the percentage of Maine high school graduates choosing to go to college is up 9 percent, and the number going to college in-state is up 16 percent, according to a report by the National Student Clearinghouse. Overall, the number of Maine college-going graduates choosing an in-state college was 71 percent in 2012, according to the report.

That’s higher than the 67 percent of Massachusetts’ graduates staying in-state, Vermont’s 54 percent and New Hampshire’s 52 percent, according to data from state education officials in those states.

Sanford High School graduate Emma-Leigh Stevenson said she wound up staying in-state largely because of family tradition.

“I looked at University of New Hampshire and (Orono) but I had a lot of family that went here and I heard it had great programs,” said Stevenson, 18, as she walked across the Gorham campus of USM. “It was really affordable and it’s nearby Portland, so it’s not in the middle of nowhere.”

Even with students like Stevenson, UMaine System officials see they’ve largely maximized the potential for attracting in-state students, which in fall 2012 made up 86 percent of the students throughout the system. Out-of-state students made up 12 percent and international only about 2 percent.

To grow the university, as costs go up and state funding dwindles, officials have to increase the number of nontraditional students.

Incentives targeting those populations are a key growth strategy, officials said.

“We saw this coming back in 2009-2010, when we launched our systemwide enrollment management,” Redonnett said.

With state funding flat, and costs going up, a dropping enrollment represents a major crisis for the system. Other states facing the same situation since the recession took hold in 2008 have slashed funding and sent tuition soaring.

Maine fared better than most states, since state funding has been flat in recent years. That allowed the UMaine System to freeze tuition two years ago. Tuition and mandatory fees are $10,700 a year for in-state students at UMaine in Orono and $27,970 for out-of-state students. At USM, tuition and fees are $8,920 for in-state students sand $21,280 for out-of-state students.

Today, being able to tout flat tuition is considered one of the most important “recruitment” tools at hand.

That was a major selling point for Caribou High School graduate and USM freshman Ron Lund.

“I was very economical,” Lund said about his college search. “(USM) fit my budget and they had the programs I wanted.”

Just as important as getting new student populations enrolled, the schools are putting more resources into holding on to the students they already have. That ranges from providing a welcoming dorm experience with more student activities to adding majors and classes that are popular with students.

A close-knit community was important to Aaron Halls, 18, of Lisbon. A freshman at USM, he’s one of 50 first-year students in the Russell Scholars Program, a special learning and residential program where the scholars live together, have computer labs and support services in the building and individual faculty advisers.

“I looked at schools out of state, and I tried to look for smaller schools,” said Halls. “The Russell Scholars (Program) has been great.”


Jimmy Jung, vice president for enrollment management at UMaine, says he’s had to “work smarter” to increase recruiting numbers. The big change this year was using data-mining techniques to get tailored profiles of would-be students by tracking their online behavior on UMaine websites.

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Additional Photos

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Deering High School senior Jenny Chiem is exploring her options and says she doesn’t want tuition costs “to be a burden to my family.”

Emma-Leigh Stevenson, a University of Southern Maine student from Sanford, says family tradition influenced her decision to stay in state.

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Lucie Tardif, 57, a student at the University of Southern Maine, works in the Office of Public Affairs at USM in Portland on Friday.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

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Aaron Halls, a freshman from Lisbon at the University of Southern Maine, says a close-knit community is important to him.


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