ORONO, Maine — Pierre Couture pulled up his red pickup truck to the University of Maine’s Cumberland Hall on Friday morning, the truck bed packed full with his stepdaughter’s belongings. Almost instantly, volunteers swarmed the truck and began to empty it.
A few minutes later, the boxes disappeared into the building on the way to Katie Hudon’s first-year dormitory room.
Couture, a Jefferson, N.H., resident, got out of the truck to oversee things, but there just wasn’t much for him to do.
“It’s amazing,” he said while Hudon was inside picking up her move-in paperwork. “When I went to college we went up and down the stairs 50 times. This is unbelievable. It’s so well-organized.”
Couture was one of thousands of parents who moved their son or daughter into a dormitory Friday, with help from around 700 UMaine volunteers taking part in the Maine Hello welcoming program. The fall semester begins Monday on the University of Maine System’s flagship campus.
UMaine’s enrollment this fall is projected to be up 1 percent, with a total of 11,925 students, which represents an increase for the 12th year in a row. The retention rate this fall also is up 3 percent, although first-year enrollment is down.
There are 1,803 first-year students this fall, a drop from last year’s final total of 2,094.
Kennedy said the dip in enrollment can be attributed to the economy, among other reasons, but the drop wasn’t unexpected.
“We anticipated that, and in fact we’re delighted it is where it is,” said Kennedy as a volunteer walked by with a refrigerator. “We’ve been following that for months, so there’s no surprise there. [The retention number] may not sound huge, but it’s quite huge for students going from their first year to their second year. They’re affected by the same [economic situation] so the fact that they’re staying in school certainly indicates an appreciation of the value and quality of UMaine.”
Students are moving to campus at a time when the entire UMaine System is struggling financially with a projected $42.8 million deficit in the next four years. The UMS board of trustees announced in May an average system-wide tuition increase of 5.8 percent for this semester.
Still, UMaine has the lowest tuition for a land-grant institution in New England — a fact that didn’t escape some students.
“It’s a really good value and it’s close to home,” said Dixmont resident Sean Gilbert, who is the youngest of six siblings to attend UMaine. “I don’t really see the point in spending $50,000 on undergrad. UMaine’s pretty good, so I just felt I’d fit in here.”
Financial concerns weighed a bit on some parents’ minds.
“We’ve got two more [children] behind Katie, so we’re hoping all of the schools resolve this,” Couture said. “UNH is [having the] same problems. They’ve got one of the highest tuition rates for a state school.”
Students such as Gilbert and John Basbas of Framingham, Mass., however, weren’t giving it much thought.
“I’m not too worried about it,” Basbas said after registering for welcome weekend events at the Collins Center for the Arts. “I feel like, if it comes up I’ll deal with it.”
The economy took a backseat Friday as parents’ pressing worries were how they’d move in their child. One father said he was relieved to see the Maine Hello volunteers.
“I’m thinking, am I going to give myself a hernia when we carry all this stuff in,” said UMaine alumnus Gov. John Baldacci, who was waiting for his van to be emptied in front of the first-year dormitory where his son, Jack, will live this fall. “And then they had all these fine young people that are very enthusiastic and energetic who said, ‘Can you move over here so we can get all this stuff out?’ It’s just really nice.”