BANGOR, Maine — In an effort to attract more people to live and work in northern Maine, the University of Maine at Fort Kent and the University of Maine at Presque Isle have reduced tuition rates for out-of-state students.
Instead of paying $550 per credit hour, more than twice the $220 rate that Maine residents pay to attend the universities, out-of-state residents will pay $330 per credit hour starting in the fall of 2014. The new rate for out-of-state residents will match a special rate charged to students from New England and Canada who are enrolled in programs that do not exist in their home state or province.
Health insurance, room and board and other fees are about the same for residents and nonresidents at both schools. Under the new structure, out-of-state students will pay just over $20,000 per year of study, while residents will continue to pay about $17,000.
“It’s about recruitment,” said Erin Benson, director of admissions at UMPI. “It’s about drawing students. Everyone perceives the value of higher education, but some families struggle with the costs.”
UMFK president Wilson Hess explained that the university has attempted to attract out-of-state students for a number of years by awarding them financial aid scholarships. However, the aid awards were still not enough to offset the high tuition rate, and many students were not completing their degrees.
“We were attracting students to our campus from out-of-state and internationally who were getting artificially large financial aid awards,” he said. “Not only were they getting disproportionately large aid awards they were getting serious loan burdens.”
University officials from both schools said the reasons for attracting students were many.
“One, northern Maine has been losing population,” said UMPI president Linda Schott. “And we feel that one of the ways we can help the whole region is by doing whatever we can to attract people to the universities.”
“The hope is that we can bring these students from other parts of the country and that we might get them into the career preparation,” she said, adding that upon graduation, “they might be offered employment [in the region].”
Hess said UMFK admissions has made efforts to recruit students from Jamaica and California to Montreal. Jamaicans are often attracted to UMFK’s strong soccer program, while Californians are finding that spots at the University of California and California State University are increasingly harder to come by as that state’s population increases and funding for the schools decreases.
The population of Aroostook County, however, has been declining steadily in recent years, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The census data showing a particularly steep decline in the younger population has prompted groups such as the Aroostook Partnership for Progress to make concerted efforts to increase economic development in the area.
“What alarmed us was, we started tracking from 1990 through the present,” Aroostook Partnership president Bob Dorsey said. “Our [age] 18-44 population, it had gone from 42 percent in 1990 to 29 percent in 2010. And with the 2011 census, it decreased further to 27 percent.”
“If we don’t turn these trends around it will be very devastating for our economy,” he added, saying he applauds the University of Maine’s efforts to attract people to the region.
The University of Maine System has seen a decline in population as well. Enrollment systemwide has decreased by 6.1 percent since 2009, according to a report provided by an UMPI spokesperson. At UMFK, enrollment dipped in 2010, but has been increasing modestly since. At UMPI, enrollment dropped by 13.7 percent between the fall of 2012 and 2013.
The presidents of the northern universities also hope the new tuition rates will increase diversity on their campuses.
“To bring people in with different experiences enriches the educational experience for everybody,” Schott said.
Hess said that though this change in tuition rate means some students will be paying less money, it would only take an increase of about 20 students paying this reduced rate for the initiative to pay off. He said it’s also more fair to those students because the state does not contribute as much to the budget as it did when the out-of-state rate was determined.
“The 2.5 times increase for out-of-staters was developed at a time when the state paid two thirds the cost of higher education,” he said. “Now the state pays about a third.”
He added, “and we get that little extra bump of new blood on campus and in the community.”