Hadithi Abdulle, center, chats Wednesday with fellow student Anissa Aden, as their biology class at Central Maine Community College in Auburn wraps up. Amy Soper, the biology lab adjunct works on some coursework on the right. Abdulle and Aden are from Lewiston. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

AUBURN — A popular program allowing recent high school graduates to attend community college tuition-free has been extended for two more graduating classes.

Students who receive their high school degree or the equivalent in 2024 and 2025 will be eligible for the program after $15 million more was allocated in the state budget approved Tuesday.

The program was originally created in 2022 with $20 million to benefit pandemic-era high school graduates from the Class of 2020 to the Class of 2023.

Individuals must also currently live in Maine, be a full-time student, and apply for federal financial aid, if they qualify, in order to receive the scholarship.

In the past year, about 6,400 students attended one of seven community colleges in Maine tuition-free through the program. The community college system estimates that the scholarship, which covers tuition and mandatory fees, but not room and board, is valued at more than $3,800 per year.

Of those students, 749 were from the Class of 2020 and the Class of 2021 and had never before enrolled in college.


“The scholarship means (students) won’t have to work multiple jobs while they study or take just one or two classes at a time because they can’t afford more,” Maine Community College System President David Daigler said. “They’ll have time to focus on learning a trade or becoming a nurse or a police officer or a chef, or pursuing any of the hundreds of degrees or one-year certificates we offer … It’s a bold move that benefits workers, employers, and the entire state of Maine.”

There were 16,791 students enrolled in community colleges across Maine last year, a 12% increase from 2021-22.

For the second year in a row, Central Maine Community College in Auburn expects to receive a record number of applications and enrolled students this fall.

Last year, there were 3,375 students enrolled.

Andrew Morong, associate dean of enrollment at CMCC, said applications for the fall are up 26%. This time last year there were 2,682 applications, versus 3,373 today. Of those students, 933 have already registered for the fall, nearly double the 505 students at this time in 2022.

“I know everyone saying, it’s free college,” Morong said. “I look at this as a workforce program … We’re providing something that the state desperately needs.”


Enrollment across nearly all of the college’s programs are up, he said, but be believes the program’s biggest impacts can be seen in the technical programs. The college is educating more students in these programs now than ever before, he said, or they’re close to it.

Students enrolled in the Building Construction Technology program is up 160% from last year. The number of Automotive Technology students has increased by 118%, Early Childhood Education students by 114% and Criminal Justice students by 53%, he said.

Previously, the nursing program only allowed students to start in the fall. Now, it has an additional 40 seats for those wishing to begin in the spring semester. Each year, the school educates 100 future nurses, he said.

“We are providing workers who are going to have great paying jobs,” he said. “They are going to immediately make an impact in this state and in their community.”

Enrollment in programs which prepare students to transfer to a four-year college are also up, Morong said. He believes undergraduate institutions like the University of Maine System will also eventually benefit from the program.

Retention at CMCC has remained steady, even with the influx of students, he said. Sixty-eight percent of students who enrolled at the college last fall continued their education into the spring, Morong said, the same rate as the fall of 2018, 2019 and 2021.


Morong believes the word “free” has been extremely powerful for attracting students.

“I think a lot of people have applied to go to school here and realized that they would have been going for free anyway, because they receive the Pell Grant and the Maine State Grant,” he said.

Adapting to a record number of students at the college has been a good challenge, Morong said. On-campus housing filled up in February, he said, leading the college to contract with a local hotel for additional space.

The school has a contract with the Center Street Value Inn in Auburn to house students in all of its rooms this fall, he said.

“Certain programs (and) courses are filling up,” he said. “But we’re adapting. We’re getting creative with our offerings.”

He said the college has “battled through the hiring crunch” and grown its staff over the past year to meet student needs.

In Fairfield, Kennebec Community College saw a marginal gain of 11 students from the 2021-22 school year to 2022-23 for a total of 2,119 students. However, the college saw a 14% decrease in enrollment since the 2018-2019 school year.

KVCC Dean of Student Affairs and Enrollment Crichton McKenna did not immediately return an interview request Wednesday afternoon.

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