AUGUSTA, ME – Final fall enrollment at Maine’s community colleges is up 4.2 percent from last year.
Headcount at the seven colleges is 17,327 students, compared to 16,622 last year, according to the official tally made on October 15.
The strong showing is due in part to a number of new initiatives at the colleges aimed at attracting and retaining more students. The system also did not raise tuition for this academic year, maintaining the lowest tuition and fees in New England.
“This kind of growth is gratifying to see, because we are constantly focused on meeting the needs of today’s students by offering an affordable, accessible quality education in a wide range of fields,” said MCCS President David Daigler. “We want to prepare people for the meaningful work and lives they have ahead of them.”
In recent years, Maine’s community colleges have launched multiple initiatives aimed at attracting and retaining students, from adding new, popular courses and programs to increasing student support services. Those efforts, along with new recruitment and marketing campaigns, contributed to the increase in enrollment.
Among the new efforts are: doubling the number of visits to some high schools, replacing group orientations with one-on-one orientation sessions; reaching prospective students through texting instead of email; and giving students new online tools to increase peer-to-peer connections.
Maine’s community colleges also added new high-demand programs and courses designed to meet the needs in certain parts of the state. For example, Northern Maine Community College and Washington County Community College have partnered to deliver a new paramedicine program in Washington County that is designed to respond to the shortage of paramedics in the region. Central Maine Community College has launched popular new programs in plumbing and heating, HVAC, and esports, and Eastern Maine Community College is offering EMT classes in a number of rural communities this fall.
“Our primary mission is to provide an education to students that, in turn, meets the economic needs of the state,” Daigler said. “We are constantly assessing our programs to ensure we’re offering targeted, relevant programs so graduates have the skills they need to step right into the jobs available now, in their communities and across the state.”
The enrollment increase is in sharp contrast to a nationwide trend of declining enrollments at two-year public colleges over the last several years.
As of October 15 — the date all colleges use to determine final enrollment data — the system-wide headcount is up an additional 705 students from the same date a year ago.
Five colleges report increases, the largest of which is at Southern Maine Community College, up 8.9 percent with 6,384 students enrolled compared to 5,862 last year at this time.
Fall enrollment figures do not include students enrolled in non-credit courses, continuing education or short-term job training.
In the last year, the number of trainees who completed short-term training programs funded by the MCCS Maine Quality Centers (MQC) program increased about 80 percent to 1,602, up from 897 in the previous year. MQC works with Maine employers to provide customized training that is free to trainees and is focused on strengthening the skills of the Maine workforce.
The high demand for both degree programs and short-term training at Maine’s community colleges is particularly noteworthy given the state’s record low unemployment, aging demographics and widespread workforce shortages. Community college enrollment has historically been tied to the economy, going up during periods of high unemployment and declining when jobs are plentiful.
Maine’s seven community colleges offer nearly 300 degree and certificate options in over 140 occupational fields. More than 75 percent are the only ones of their kind in the state.