Enrollment at Maine’s community colleges is up again, 9.6 percent over last fall, an increase of 1,576 students statewide.
Since 2002, when the seven institutions made the switch from technical to community college, enrollment has now grown 77 percent — from 10,127 students to 17,967.
Maine Community College System President John Fitzsimmons noted Thursday that enrollment has grown 21 percent in the past two years alone, making the state’s community college system one of the fastest-growing systems of higher education in the nation.
“I am enormously proud of what our colleges have done,” he said. “But the challenge remains. We do not have the capacity to serve all those who want to enroll and who need a college education to achieve economic security.”
In response to that challenge, the nonprofit group Foundation for Maine’s Community Colleges has launched a fundraising campaign to raise a minimum of $10 million. The goal is to assist the colleges in meeting the demand from Maine people eager for a college degree and from employers who depend on a skilled work force to fuel the state’s economy. The campaign is focused on raising funds for instructional equipment and technology, new and expanded academic programs, capital upgrades at each of the colleges and student support.
“There’s a significant gap between the current skills of our work force and the skills we’ll need to compete in a changing economy,” former Maine Gov. John R. McKernan, who serves as co-chairman of the Campaign for Maine’s Community Colleges, said in a statement. “The community colleges are the bridge that spans the gap. They are critical to our ability to work our way out of the current economic crisis.”
The colleges with the largest enrollment growth this fall were York County Community College in Wells, up 16.3 percent to 1,661 students; Kennebec Valley Community College in Fairfield, up 12.5 percent to 2,584 students; and Southern Maine Community College in South Portland, up 11.44 percent to 6,977 students.
Eastern Maine Community College in Bangor saw a 6.2 percent rise to 2,236 students this fall. Enrollment at Washington County Community College in Calais was up 9.3 percent to 492 students. Central Maine Community College in Auburn rose 7.9 percent to 2,936 students.
Northern Maine Community College in Presque Isle saw a slight decrease to 1,081 students, but those numbers are likely to change before the official census enrollment date of Oct. 15.
“They are bigger than projected. It’s good, but a challenge, too,” said Helen Pelletier, a spokeswoman for the Maine Community College System. “One of the things that has been great has been the businesses and leaders around the state who are quick to acknowledge our importance in the future of the state.”