Like the state as a whole, the University of Maine faces a demographic challenge. With dwindling numbers of Maine high school graduates, the university has had to look elsewhere for students to fill its classrooms — and to balance its books.
For its freshman class that enters this fall, the Orono campus decided to focus on students from six northeastern states that traditionally have accounted for the bulk of the university’s out-of-state enrollment. Under a program called Flagship Match, academically qualified students from New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey and Pennsylvania are awarded merit scholarships so the cost of attending UMaine matches the cost of attending their home state’s flagship university.
In its first year, the program has significantly increased the number of students from these states who have committed to attending UMaine in the fall.
As of May 1, 2,447 first-year students had committed to attending UMaine, compared with 2,012 at the same time last year. Of those, 1,123 are from outside Maine, a sharp increase from 731 a year ago. About 79 percent are from the six northeastern states targeted by Flagship Match.
The incoming class will include 518 students from Massachusetts, an 81 percent increase over the 286 students from Massachusetts who enrolled at the university last fall. The incoming class includes nearly 60 percent more students from the six targeted states than last year’s freshman class.
Students from the six states with a high school GPA of 3.0 or higher and SAT scores of 1050 or higher qualify for Flagship Match. A Massachusetts student, for example, who attends UMaine would pay the in-state UMass Amherst price of $14,356, more than half off UMaine’s out-of-state tuition rate of $28,880.
But UMaine still sees a financial boost when enough Flagship Match students enroll, since UMass Amherst’s in-state tuition rate is higher than UMaine’s in-state rate of $10,610.
The Orono campus also is working to keep more Maine students in-state for college. A companion to Flagship Match, Maine Match, matches scholarship offers made to Maine students by other flagship universities in New England.
Long-term, these programs should pay dividends to the state as a whole. In 2015, the university surveyed alumni who had graduated in December 2013 or in 2014. Among those who came to Orono from out-of-state and had full-time jobs, 22 percent were employed in Maine. Seventy-five percent of UMaine’s 2013-14 graduates from the Pine Tree State found full-time jobs here.
Even if the percentage of out-of-state students who stay in Maine to work doesn’t increase, having more students from outside the state will help grow the state’s workforce. Having more Maine residents with college degrees will contribute to a skilled workforce. Numerous recent reports have focused on the state’s desperate need for more workers, especially those with college degrees, to meet employers’ demands in Maine.
Maine’s workforce of roughly 700,000 people is expected to shrink by 20,000 workers by 2020 as older workers retire. Indeed, the bulk of expected job openings in the coming years are likely to come from the need to replace workers who retire or leave an occupation, not because the economy is creating new jobs.
“Without positive natural change, Maine will depend on net in-migration to maintain our population and workforce,” the Maine Department of Labor wrote in its report “Maine Workforce Outlook 2012-2022.” “In the recent recovery, net-migration to and from Maine has remained near zero. That trend must be reversed to maintain the size of our workforce.”
Enrolling more out-of-state students at the University of Maine is a small piece of the solution.