LEWISTON — Enrollment at the University of Southern Maine’s Lewiston-Auburn College has dropped more than 50 percent in the past 13 years.

USM President Glenn Cummings said that in the past few years enrollment has stabilized. And he said new programs are in the works that should help attract more students.

A request for exact numbers from USM public relations staff last week — a holiday week — went unanswered. USM-LAC interim Dean Brian Toy didn’t have precise enrollment numbers at his fingertips, but estimated about 600 students this year took classes at the Lewiston campus.

A USM-LAC news release from 2005 stated that 1,350 students were registered, which was a record, nearly a 10 percent jump over the year before.

In 2005, the Lewiston campus was the fastest growing one the state university system, the release said, which demonstrated how important the campus had become to the area.

Local USM-LAC Community Advisory Board members say enrollment has been hurt, in part, because USM in Portland hasn’t provided needed courses in Lewiston.

But a number of other factors have likely contributed to fewer students:

• While Portland’s USM has enjoyed robust marketing in recent years, there has been no marketing for the college in Lewiston. USM officials acknowledge many people don’t even know the college exists or where it is. They say strong marketing needs to happen.

• Nationwide, there are fewer college students now compared to the generations before them, as evidenced by retiring baby voomers and not enough young workers to fill their jobs. Having fewer students has forced many colleges and universities to scramble to fill classrooms.

• In 2003, under Gov. John Baldacci, Maine transformed the state’s technical colleges into the Maine Community College System, making it easier and cheaper for students to graduate from two-year programs and get their associate degrees in programs in demand. That has prompted enrollment growth at state community colleges. In 2008, enrollment at Auburn’s Central Maine Community College was 2,500; in 2018 it was 3,068, according to CMCC.

At the same time, awareness has grown about the crippling cost of student loan debt. Today’s college students are more aware of student debt as they’ve watched college graduates ahead of them default on student loans or put off buying homes and make other painful financial choices in order to make payments.

Compared to private colleges, the cost for four years at the University of Maine System is the best bang for anyone’s buck, USM-LAC’s Toy said. For an in-state student, the annual tuition cost, including fees, is between $9,000 and $10,000, far less than many private colleges and universities.

Still, annual tuition and fees for a student at a state community college campus like CMCC is about $4,000, which is one reason why a lot of Lewiston High School graduates this year said they will attend the community college this fall.

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