A person walks across the “mall” on the campus at University of Maine in Orono on July 25, 2023. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer, file

The University of Maine System is seeing early success with its new pilot program to automatically admit students who never officially applied to one of its seven schools.

Direct admissions – admitting students who never went through the often expensive and arduous application process – is growing in popularity around the country.

Instead of deciding whom to admit based on a formal application, letters of recommendation and supplemental essays, schools instead admit students based on where they went to high school, their grades, their standardized test scores and other information they get from high schools.

Idaho, Minnesota and Georgia state schools, as well as a slew of less-selective private schools, have similar programs.

The UMaine System is finishing up its pilot year, and Director of Academic and Enrollment Initiatives Jamie Ballinger, who helped to spearhead the program, said at a board of trustees meeting this month that so far it is going “exceptionally well.”

Of the 3,100 students who were offered direct admission, so far 806 have said they were potentially interested in attending a UMaine school, and 280 have enrolled. That’s about a 9% success rate.


Students have until May 1 to enroll, and the system expects to receive significantly more commitments by that time.

In its pilot year, the system only offered direct admission to early college students – students who take college courses through the UMaine System while they are in high school.

To enroll in early college, students must have at least a 3.0 high school GPA. Those courses cost $145 per credit hour – though the system waives about half the cost and the state pays for the other half – and can be used toward completing a degree at any system school. A regular class is typically three credit hours.

These students “have proven themselves and their likelihood of success because of their involvement in early college,” UMaine System Chancellor Dannel Malloy said in an interview.

Of the 280 students who had been accepted as of Friday, most are going to the University of Maine, the University of Maine at Farmington or the University of Southern Maine, but students admitted through direct admissions are accepted at all of the system’s schools.

The UMaine System, like public university systems around the country, has been watching its enrollment decline for years.


In the 2020 spring semester, the system enrolled 21,039 undergraduate students. This semester, there are 18,603 enrolled, according to UMaine System data.

Declining enrollment means declining revenue – fewer students paying to live in dorms, swiping into the dining hall, buying coffees on campus or paying for parking.

Nationally, college enrollment grew slightly this past fall. According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, fall undergraduate enrollment grew 1.2% from the year prior, with 176,000 more students attending colleges and universities than the year before. But enrollment had been declining for years.

Over the past decade, postsecondary education enrollment dropped by about 3 million students, the research center found.

Direct admissions is one way that the UMaine System is trying to stabilize enrollment.

In the years to come, the system plans to expand direct admissions to high schoolers outside of its Early College Program. Like in other states, the system plans to do this by looking at high school students’ GPAs, seeing who meets their minimum qualifications and inviting those students to attend their schools.


UMaine is working with high schools around the state and hopes to specifically target students from schools who are not big feeder schools.

Each of the seven schools decides individually what their minimum qualifications are. Some, Ballinger said, are “exceptionally liberal, admitting pretty much every student who comes their way.” Others have a 2.25 GPA cutoff. (A 2.25 GPA is equivalent to a C-plus average.)

Ballinger said direct admissions is the best way to meet students where they’re at, to take away the anxiety and expense of the college admissions process, and to show them that college is an option for them.

“This is the future of admissions for our universities,” Ballinger said.

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