Student body growing, changing at University College at Rockland

Posted Aug. 25, 2010, at 3:22 p.m.

ROCKLAND, Maine — University College at Rockland’s student body is growing and changing.

Enrollment for this fall at URock is up about 8 percent to 625 students with 1,370 course registrations, according to Deborah Meehan, director of the University of Maine System satellite center.

URock, the largest of nine University of Maine System centers around the state, seems to be attracting a variety of students, from traditional 18-year-old high school graduates to lobstermen who want to diversify their skills and unemployed midcoast professionals who need to be retrained.

Final enrollment numbers won’t be in until mid-October because students have time to add and drop classes, but numbers for satellite campuses are expected to be strong this year, according to Peter Small, the University of Maine System institutional research analyst.

Meehan attributes the increasing numbers at URock to a number of factors.

“Unemployed people are out of work and there are a lot of resources for people to go back to school now,” she said. For instance, anyone collecting unemployment is eligible for federal Pell grants to help with college costs.

Area residents have the convenience of taking face-to-face classes on campus at 91 Camden Street in Rockland or taking online or interactive television courses through any University of Maine System campus.

Another major factor involves people who never finished their degrees and now have time to, she said.

“It is in their souls that it didn’t happen for them,” Meehan said. “They have a need for closure. You see that whether you’re 25 or 55.”

Mary Lynch of Lincolnville, for instance, said Tuesday that she enrolled at Urock in 2007 after leaving art school in New York and working 15 years in retail.

“I was in retail so long I was going to lose my mind,” she said. “I never finished my degree. I wanted to return.”

“I was going down the wrong path,” she said. “I needed to change. This allowed me to stay where I was and stay connected to my community.”

Lynch, who is majoring in liberal studies with a minor in public administration, started classes at URock full time in the fall of 2007 and plans to graduate in May. She said she wants to study law or international affairs or public policy at the University of Southern Maine or at Harvard Extension School.

Most of URock’s students are full-time. If enrollment keeps growing, Meehan said, the satellite campus might need more space in the future.

The recession may be playing a role in causing some of the trends Meehan said she has noticed at the center since it moved from Thomaston to Rockland in 2006,

For instance, students seem to have more out-of-school responsibilities now than pre-recession.

“It is tough times, so I see people juggling. Instead of juggling one part-time job, they’re juggling two part-time jobs and school,” Meehan said. “It adds a complexity to their lives.”

Another trend is a swing from 80 percent women enrolled in classes in 2006 to only about 55 percent women now. Again, the economy may be causing more men to go back to school, she said.

If you look at the jobs lost, they are manufacturing and trades. It is primarily male-dominated jobs,” Meehan said.

One of those trade jobs, ubiquitous in the midcoast, is lobstering. The lobstermen and their sternmen and sternwomen are enrolling in higher numbers too.

“Before they were confident enough in fishing,” Meehan said. But some fishermen are worried about the muscle-intensive work as they age or the way the fishing industry is going in Maine, so they are educating themselves.

Because of finances, many younger students have chosen to attend university centers closer to home, she said. Meehan spoke to a man last week who said he wants to attend Unity College, but chose to start at URock and later transfer because of the expense.

“I try to predict what will happen when the recovery happens,” Meehan said. She worries people might be grateful to be employed and leave school, but she is also hopeful that the students will be engaged enough in academia to want to stay — or revisit.

URock recently polled 2009 and 2010 graduates to see if they got the jobs they wanted.

“I went into it with great trepidation,” Meehan said, but she was happily surprised. “They were in really good shape. For the most part they were employed where they wanted to be. It was really, really encouraging to see their success.”

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