The University of Maine’s new “flagship match” program has been so successful at boosting enrollment by bringing in out-of-state students that the university is considering expanding the program beyond six northeastern states.

Admissions at UMaine in Orono for this fall have increased 22 percent so far, bolstered by a 54 percent surge in out-of-state students. The 2016-17 enrollment projections are on track to reverse flagging enrollment at UMaine’s flagship campus in recent years. To help attract and retain students, the UMaine System has frozen in-state tuition over the past six years.

Joel Wincowski, interim vice president for enrollment management, is the architect of the flagship match initiative. He said the university likely will decide within the next few weeks whether to expand the program to students in California and Illinois in its second year.

Currently, students graduating high school with a “B” average or higher in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Connecticut can attend UMaine for the cost of in-state tuition at the flagship school in their home state.

For instance, a Pennsylvania student would pay $17,515 a year to attend UMaine in Orono – the same as in-state tuition at Penn State University. That’s far more than UMaine’s in-state tuition of $10,610, but far less than UMaine’s out-of-state tuition of $28,880. For a Massachusetts resident, the cost to attend UMaine would be about $14,100.

The school reaps the financial benefit of gaining a student who is paying substantially more than the in-state rate, while the students are enticed to enroll by paying less than the out-of-state tuition. The program, coupled with a new marketing campaign and strategic recruitment efforts last fall, has proven to be popular in its first year, with the number of out-of-state students at UMaine rising from 731 last year to 1,123 for 2016-17, including 518 from Massachusetts.


“We’re ecstatic with these numbers,” Wincowski said. “The numbers are unbelievable, off the charts.”


He said the university had projected admission rates of 2,100 new students for the fall by May 1, but instead has 2,447 enrollees and expects to top 2,500 in the next week or so.

The enrollment process continues through the summer, but May 1 is a typical date when many high school students have decided which college to attend in the fall.

UMaine Provost Jeff Hecker said the university plans on hiring six additional full-time professors, and perhaps more, to serve the additional students. UMaine has about 375 full-time professors.

Wincowski said the flagship match program, which he believes is the first of its kind in the country, is simple to understand and should be expanded to students in more states.


“The flagship match program would be at the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Illinois,” said Wincowski, who came up with the idea to boost enrollment shortly after he arrived at UMaine in August 2015 from St. Mary’s College in Maryland, where he was vice president.

He said the program only makes sense in states where the flagship university has in-state tuition that is higher than Maine’s in-state rate. In-state tuition and fees at UC Berkeley are $12,972, and at the University of Illinois, $15,626.

Wincowski said a new Maine Match program that also started this year is helping to retain Maine high school graduates by matching scholarships given to students who were contemplating leaving Maine for their college education.

Even though Maine’s K-12 enrollment has declined, UMaine enrollment by in-state residents is up 3 percent so far, an indication that retention efforts are working, he said.


Meanwhile, numbers at most of the other UMaine System campuses also are increasing, although the other campuses do not yet have the flagship match program. The rise stems from a downward trend across the system in recent years that may be reversing. Enrollment at several of the campuses are showing increases in fall 2016, with five of the seven, including the two largest – UMaine in Orono and the University of Southern Maine – attracting more out-of-state students.


At USM, which has campuses in Portland, Gorham and Lewiston, enrollment for fall 2016 has so far increased by 10 percent to 563 first-year students. In-state enrollments are up 2 percent, while the number of out-of-state students jumped 28 percent.

USM President Glenn Cummings said the school is monitoring the Orono campus’ flagship match program closely and considering whether to replicate it or implement a similar program.

Cummings said USM has about 6,000 undergraduate students and a capacity for about 9,000, so there’s room to grow. He said USM’s Portland location should be attractive to out-of-state students, especially if they are getting a tuition break. In-state tuition and fees at USM are currently $8,920, and $21,280 for out-of-state students.


“I have a lot of respect for what UMaine is doing, taking that calculated risk,” Cummings said. “We are certainly going to take a look at (the flagship match). Portland is an enormous magnet on the Eastern Seaboard for young people, and we haven’t even begun to market that.”

When Cummings took over the USM presidency last year he said he planned several initiatives to improve enrollment numbers, including stemming USM’s dropout rate, improving outreach to high school students and strengthening marketing, particularly to out-of-state students.

Nancy Griffin, vice president of enrollment management at USM, said that although the university doesn’t have a flagship match program, it has worked hard to put together attractive financial aid packages for students.

“This is a major turning point for us,” Griffin said. “We have hit all of our enrollment targets.”


Comments are no longer available on this story