PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Officials at Northern Maine Community College believe they are about to welcome what is likely to be the largest incoming class in the institution’s 48-year history.
“We are very busy and very excited for the coming year,” Bill Egeler, dean of students at NMCC, said Wednesday. “We are really looking forward to serving all of those who want to attend NMCC this year.”
The college has enrolled 581 students in the incoming Class of 2009, a jump of 11 percent over the week before classes began last year. Classes begin this year on Monday, Aug. 24.
NMCC President Tim Crowley said he thinks several factors are driving the enrollment jump. The president noted that the college has reached out to more students in Aroostook County by expanding course and program offerings and adding new programs to its academic inventory.
Egeler agreed, adding that the economy is another factor.
“Times are hard, and we have gotten the message out about NMCC and other community colleges in the state,” he said. “People are out of work and they are realizing that they have a chance to go back to school and earn a valuable degree close to home at a lower cost by enrolling in a community college.”
This fall, NMCC will begin delivering its associate degree nursing program and early childhood education associate degree program in the St. John Valley. Nursing courses will originate on the NMCC campus and will be delivered through videoconferencing equipment to a classroom at Madawaska High School. The clinical component of the program will be conducted at health care facilities in the region. The entire early childhood education curriculum will be taught on-site in the St. John Valley.
The move comes on the heels of the success NMCC has seen since it began offering the nursing program in Houlton several years ago. The nursing program has been offered to students taking courses at the Houlton Higher Education Center through a partnership of NMCC, the University of Maine at Presque Isle and Houlton Regional Hospital.
Egeler said Wednesday that all of NMCC’s trade and technical programs seem to be popular this year. He added that “anything to do with the medical field” is pretty much full.
The college’s nursing and allied health department offers degrees in nursing, medical assisting, paramedicine and other fields.
“We also have seen growth in our liberal studies program,” he said. “Students who are undecided about a career can take the necessary classes and then transfer into a program when they decide what they like.”
As expected, NMCC’s new wind power technology program is one of the most popular degree programs and the first of its kind in New England. The initial plan was to enroll 18 students in the inaugural class this fall. Earlier this year, after demand for the program far exceeded capacity, NMCC officials decided to add a second group and will welcome 36 students when classes begin Monday.
The college received 58 qualified applications from prospective students throughout Maine and beyond for entry into the wind power technology program this fall.
“This is very popular and we have a lot of people interested in it,” said Egeler. “They see it as an emerging green field.”
Enrollment in the incoming class of both the associate degree program in medical assisting and the certificate offering in medical coding have more than doubled this fall over last, according to data provided by the college. Significant growth also has been seen in the relatively new precision metals manufacturing associate degree program.
Egeler agreed Wednesday that academic programs added on the NMCC campus in recent years have helped boost enrollment numbers this fall. The new offerings are now at or reaching capacity in the first year of the two-year programs.
The college has seen a significant increase in the number of traditional-age students. The number of 17- through 24-year- olds in the entering Class of 2009 is 14.5 percent greater than the incoming Class of 2008.
To deal with more students, Egeler said, NMCC has hired more instructors and adjunct faculty members.
Crowley said challenges have come with the enrollment jump, as NMCC is coming off a year when its budget was reduced by $400,000.
He said that responding to the growing demand was possible because of a team effort by NMCC personnel.
“In a year when we have reduced our budget by a significant amount, we are preparing to serve what will likely be the largest entering class ever,” said Crowley. “It is a tribute to the willingness of the faculty and staff to step up to this challenge that has allowed us to provide the education people are looking for.”