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Three UMaine Campuses Try New Ways to Boost Enrollment
01/22/2014   Reported By: Susan Sharon

With the cost of college out of reach for some families, and with a desire to attract a more diverse student body and boost enrollment, two University of Maine campuses are undertaking a new strategy to make their schools more appealing to out-of-staters and international students. A third campus in the system is expanding a program to offer free housing to freshman as a way to get area high school kids to consider staying close to home. Susan Sharon has more.

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Beginning this semester, the University of Maine at Fort Kent and the University of Maine at Presque Isle are offering a tuition break to out-of-state students from beyond New England. Under the new rate structure, those particular students will see their tuition drop by 40 percent - from $16,560 a year to just under $10,000. In-state students' rates will remain the same, about $6,600 a year.

"We believe that this reduction in tuition will make us more competitive in the out-of-state and international market," says Dr. Linda Schott, president of the University of Maine at Presque Isle. "And why that is desirable is, one, because we would really like to have a more diverse group of students here on our own campus. We know that diversity among our students is enriching to all of them. And, secondly, we really want to contribute to the economic development of Aroostook County."

Schott says the county has been losing population, so the two campuses have been working with employers on strategies for drawing people to the region. Putting students into internships with local businesses, and other career development programs, Schott says, could be the ticket to getting them to put down roots when they graduate.

Schott says it will take the recruitment of at least 30 more students to make the initiative break even. But if an ongoing partnership with several schools in China is any indication, Schott says lower tuition could be a catalyst for recruitment.

"What's happening in China is that more of the middle class families are seeking an education in the United States for their children and they balk even at our tuition at the level at which it was," she says.

Other colleges and universities have also tried lowering both in-state and out-of-state tuition as way to bolster enrollment, with mixed results, according to published reports. A decade-old Lumina Foundation study found that tuition discounting often fails to increase net revenue for colleges. There can be a perception that schools that offer lower tuition are not as strong academically.

But Jill Cairns, director of admissions at the University of Maine at Fort Kent, says the commitment to academics remains just as strong as the goal to keep college affordable.

"Nursing program right now is very, very well known throughout the state of Maine and even within New England, and so, you know, the less expensive the school is, the less strength in the academic programs. You know, I wouldn't say that's certainly the case for our campus."

According to the admissions director at Presque Isle, national figures show a declining number of high school graduates in Maine and around the Northeast. So colleges and universities are exploring creative strategies to try to get them to advance their education.

For example, at the University of Maine in Farmington, a program to offer free on-campus housing to freshmen students who graduated from Mt. Blue High School last year has been expanded. Beginning in 2014, any student who graduates from Franklin County can get the same advantage.

Admissions Director Jamie Marcus says that's a savings of more than $4,500. "And we believe we got some students that wouldn't have chosen our particular college had we not had the program."

Marcus says before the Be Home UMF program, just 12 students from Mount Blue High School enrolled at the college. But last year the figure nearly doubled. Marcus says he's also aware of at least one student who wouldn't have chosen to attend college at all without the break in his first-year expenses. He's hoping that number will rise even more this fall.


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