The number of new students planning to attend the University of Maine System this fall is down about 5 percent from the same time last year, but some of the smaller campuses are showing big increases, according to the latest data.

The number of first-time and transfer students putting down deposits by the May 1 deadline is up at four campuses, including a 34 percent jump at the University of Maine at Presque Isle and about 15 percent increases at both the Fort Kent and Machias campuses. UMaine Farmington posted a 9 percent increase, according to data as of May 11, and compared to the same time period last year.

Numbers are down at the three biggest campuses: the flagship University of Maine in Orono, the University of Southern Maine, and the University of Maine at Augusta.

Deposits at USM, which has been in the spotlight in recent years for financial problems that have led to program and faculty cuts, are down 15 percent. At Orono, which has typically had strong enrollment numbers even when other campuses lagged, deposits are down 4 percent. Augusta, which has a large number of older students who tend to enroll late, is down 24 percent.

The figures do not include returning students.

Rosa Redonnett, chief student affairs officer for the system, said all of the campuses are tackling the enrollment issue aggressively.

“They’re on the right track,” said Redonnett, adding that each campus has unique approaches to recruitment depending on its market and offerings. “They’re doing all the things you can do. It’s such a complicated mix and the competition is so fierce.”

Redonnett said the Presque Isle campus has launched several recruiting strategies, from touting its new proficiency-based curriculum to hiring a recruiting firm.

“It’s really paying off,” she said.

The final fall 2014 student headcount was down 2.5 percent systemwide from the year before.

The system has faced years of financial shortfalls. On Monday, the system’s board of trustees will vote on a $518 million budget for the fiscal year beginning in July that includes cutting 206 positions systemwide and using $7 million from emergency reserves. Last year’s $529 million system budget required using $11.4 million in emergency funds and cutting 157 positions.

Officials say the budget deficits are the result of flat state funding, declining enrollment and three years of tuition freezes. This year, the governor has proposed increasing state funding for the university system, but the state budget is still being debated.

Attracting out-of-state students is a high priority, since they pay about $30,000 in tuition and fees, three times the in-state rate.

Last year, out-of-state enrollment was up more than 10 percent systemwide. So far this year, out-of-state deposits are up at Farmington, Presque Isle and Machias, and down elsewhere.

Maine’s declining youth population means the in-state pipeline for state colleges is shrinking.

“Some of (the deposit numbers) are still a reflection of what’s going on with demographics in the state,” Redonnett said. “That’s a problem that doesn’t go away.”

At USM, turnaround efforts include a $1 million ad campaign, $1 million in additional scholarship money and aggressive recruiting out of state, including the northern coastal areas of Massachusetts and New Hampshire areas, USM spokesman Chris Quint said Friday.

So far, the number of out-of-state transfer students is up 33 percent, from 46 students to 61.

“This isn’t going to turn around overnight,” Quint said. “We’re going to continue to see enrollment down into fall, but we’re really happy seeing pockets of improving numbers. We just have to continue to be aggressive.”

A spokeswoman for the University of Maine in Orono said the school has a fall 2015 enrollment target of 2,065, roughly the same size class as last fall.

“While gains and losses experienced over the summer months make our final fall 2015 enrollment difficult to forecast, we are pleased to be running ahead of our target at this time,” Margaret Nagle said in an email. The school’s in-state enrollment is stable, she noted, and Orono continues to recruit out-of-state students, which are down 5 percent from last year.

 


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