People play baseball on the nearly empty mall at the University of Maine on Thursday, April 23. Credit: Nina Mahaleris | The Penobscot Times

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The University of Maine’s freshman class will be slightly smaller come fall, but it will have more students from outside of Maine, according to preliminary enrollment data.

As the University of Maine prepares to reopen this fall — albeit with some modifications likely due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic — the number of students who have confirmed their attendance is an early sign of how campus could look in the first full semester since the pandemic’s start.

May 1 marked the deadline for accepted students to confirm whether they plan to attend UMaine in the fall.

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As of Sunday, the incoming freshman class at the Orono campus had 2,217 confirmed students, compared with 2,231 who had put down their enrollment deposits at the same time last year. Some 1,020 of those students were not Mainers, a 10.5 percent jump over last year’s enrollment figures. UMaine saw the number of students from Maine drop by 8.5 percent, to 1,197 from 1,308.

“I think a big part of that is people are seeing how the University of Maine and the state of Maine is handling this pandemic and these challenges,” said Christopher Richards, the university’s director of undergraduate enrollment management. “But we’ve also done a lot of work for years now recruiting out of state students.”

UMaine has managed to turn around enrollment declines in recent years with the help of students from outside of Maine. One program, Flagship Match, allows students from select states to attend UMaine at the tuition they would have paid to attend the flagship university in their home states.

Under Gov. Janet Mills’ current four-stage reopening plan, those coming to Maine from out of state will have to quarantine themselves for 14 days, potentially posing a hurdle for those reporting to UMaine for the fall semester.

The state responsible for the largest increase in both applications and confirmed students was New Hampshire. The number of New Hampshire students who applied to UMaine rose 16 percent, while the number who eventually confirmed their fall 2020 enrollment shot up 40 percent.

At the same time, in-state applications fell by 3.6 percent, and the number of accepted Maine students who had confirmed enrollment by May 1 declined by 8.5 percent compared with last year.

“We’ve seen some of the reports that Maine is particularly economically at risk, maybe more so than other states in light of COVID-19,” Richards said, referring to the illness caused by the coronavirus. “So I think just a lot of families and students are just having questions and they need a little more time to make sure they think this through.”

Most campuses within the University of Maine System accept rolling enrollment confirmations until the fall semester begins. While the preliminary enrollment numbers are not available system-wide, application data for all seven universities show a 4 percent increase in out-of-state applicants for summer and fall enrollment and a 5 percent decline in Maine applicants compared with 2019.

“We’re going to have to work closely with our partners in our high schools to reach out to admitted students, and get them over the line,” university system spokesperson Dan Demeritt said. “Because we can’t lose a class of hundreds of students who otherwise would have gone on to college in a different year. So we need to be doing a lot of work across the system to make sure we reach those students here in Maine.”