BANGOR, Maine — For the fourth consecutive year, Eastern Maine Community College has broken a record for both applications and enrollment.
“I think the word has finally gotten out there that our educational programs are one of the best values anywhere,” said Lawrence Barrett, now in his third year as EMCC’s president. “We have the lowest tuition in New England at $86 per credit hour.”
As a way of comparison, the University of Maine’s cost per credit hour is currently $279 for in-state students and $841 for out-of-state students.
Barrett points to two key factors in EMCC’s growth.
“I think our program mix is the key,” he said. “We specialize in a lot of programs that produce workers in demand for certain jobs right here in Maine, like culinary arts and welding. And I think we can keep our cost [per credit hour] so low because of the work of our staff and keeping costs down.”
According to statistics released Friday:
• EMCC has seen enrollment highs each of the last four years, with increases of 2 percent in 2009-10, 2 percent in 2010-11, 5 percent in 2011-12, and 7 percent this year. There are 2,488 first-time and returning students enrolled at the school this fall.
• The 7 percent enrollment increase leads all of Maine’s seven community colleges. Kennebec Valley Community College in Fairfield is next at 4 percent, with Central Maine Community College in Auburn at 3 percent, according to Maine Community College System public affairs director Helen Pelletier.
• EMCC saw a record number of applications — 3,353, an increase of 40 percent over last year and more than four times the 800 available spots in the school’s freshman class.
• There is currently a waiting list for 19 of the 25 programs offered by EMCC.
• Dorm space is full with all 262 beds on campus taken and a waiting list of 48 students waiting for dorm space to open up.
Barrett said the growth was under way before he even arrived at EMCC.
“What we’ve done since 2010, when we used a strategic plan based on enrollment growth for our college, is we’ve said we also need more quality by incorporating economic development and employment into our curriculum,” he said.
EMCC’s growth mirrors a longtime trend among Maine’s community colleges, according to Pelletier.
“ This is the 23rd straight year of enrollment growth for the system as a whole,” she said, adding that the total number of students currently enrolled at Maine community colleges is 18,722. “Our overall [enrollment] growth rate this year was one percent, and since 2003, when we went from technical colleges to community colleges, we’ve grown 85 percent.”
Pelletier said it’s hard to beat the relatively low cost of education and the schools’ success rate: 93 percent of community college students either continue on to higher education or find employment.
“Not only is it affordable and practical, you can transfer those credits to other institutions like the University of Maine, Husson University, Saint Joseph’s College, and some out-of-state schools,” Barrett said.
When asked to cite an example of an efficient way in which EMCC is able to hold costs down, Barrett pointed to the school’s Jenzabar student information system. He said the old system was more cumbersome and labor intensive.
“We’re using a new computer student info system that allows us to process student enrollment and financial aid information much more quickly,” he said. “Three years ago just 60 percent of our students were packaged in by the first day of school. This year 95.4 percent of them were.”
The school tries to save students money in other ways, too.
“We’re also doing more things like e-textbooks and textbook rentals,” said Barrett, noting that his school’s enrollment is still a 50-50 mix between traditional — recent high school graduates — and nontraditional older students. “That’s saving a lot of money for our students when they don’t have to buy brand-new, or even used, textbooks.”