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

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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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“It made a big difference,” Jung said. The fall 2013 freshman class is 2,170 students – up from 1,842 students last year.

“It’s a very targeted marketing campaign,”Jung said. “You have to become more responsive to the individual student.”

In the same way that political mailers are highly targeted to specific kinds of voters, the school is now targeting specific kinds of students. It starts by analyzing data to identify likely students, down to the ZIP code and school level, where the student profile closely matches that of current UMaine students, indicating they would be more likely to be interested.

Email is sent to those prospective students, and then the school tracks which students click through to Web-based promotional materials – and how long they spend in different sections. Based on that student’s response, the school sends a follow-up letter that reflects the student’s interests. For instance, a prospective student who lingers on a page about the school’s sports programs would get a letter with more detail about the sports teams, for example.

“It doesn’t help to scatter the message,” he said. “We don’t have enough money to tell the whole world. Who do we tell? The targeted student, using data.”

The UMaine System is also targeting “up and coming markets” outside New England, reaching down as far south as Pennsylvania and Virginia.

“We’ve never really pushed our outreach to those areas,” he said.

Those out-of-state students also pay higher tuition, even higher than New England students, or Canadian students who are offered a special 150 percent of in-state tuition rate through a long-standing agreement reached in 1957 among members of the New England Board of Higher Education.

Another target population is international students, who pay full out-of-state tuition rates. Today, 662 international students attend the UMaine system – 2.1 percent of the total student body.

This fall, the UMaine System announced a partnership with a company to more than double that number by recruiting foreign students in their home countries, and paying those recruiters 80 percent of the students’ first-year tuition and a smaller portion in subsequent years. The partnership with Study Group launched at UMaine in Orono this year with fewer than 10 students, and will expand to USM in the fall of 2014.

Officials anticipate the program will eventually bring in 300 students per year to UMaine, and 100 students per year to USM.

Jung said many of the system’s current international students are from Southeast Asia and he expects those numbers to rise, since there is a rising middle class in those countries, and families and governments want their students to get a U.S. education.

Aside from hiring outside recruiters, the campuses are also forging ties with universities in other countries. At USM, the school recently opened a Confucius Institute, which partners the school with a Chinese university.

Transfer students have been an increasing presence at the universities, particularly as the Maine Community College System has grown in the last decade.

Last year, the number of transfer students coming from the Maine Community College System increased 20 percent for the year, and transfers from other institutions increased 16.4 percent.

Officials want to further increase those numbers by creating a more seamless transfer system so students know exactly which courses will transfer for credit and how they will count toward a four-year degree.

Erika Landon, originally from Bangor, transferred to USM this year from Suffolk University in Boston.

“I didn’t feel like the education was balancing out with the cost,” said Landon, 19, who lives in a dorm and said she’s happy she transferred back to Maine.

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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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