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Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Maine neighborhood faculties and universities compete for enrollment

Maine neighborhood faculties are experiencing an enrollment enhance after launching a brief free faculty program this previous fall, designed to draw highschool graduates affected by the pandemic. The College of Maine system, nevertheless, is concurrently wrestling with enrollment losses.

Some college system leaders and school members say the lure of free faculty—whereas constructive—is partly in charge for the decline in college students, they usually hope state lawmakers will assist them institute their very own systemwide faculty affordability program to draw low-income college students. Group faculty system leaders help making the four-year establishments extra reasonably priced, however they are saying free neighborhood faculty isn’t the rationale for enrollment declines on the system’s universities.

The free faculty program, initially proposed by Maine governor Janet Mills, covers two years of tuition for brand new and returning college students who graduated or are scheduled to graduate highschool from 2020 by way of 2023. Enrollment throughout the neighborhood faculty system rose 12 % in fall 2022, returning to pre-pandemic ranges of 16,791 college students after staggering declines.

This system has been “successful at actually encouraging college students who stepped away from the upper training pathway in the course of the pandemic to rethink and are available again into larger ed,” mentioned David Daigler, president of the neighborhood faculty system.

In the meantime, undergraduate enrollment throughout the College of Maine system fell about 5 % over the identical interval, a lack of barely over 1,200 college students, which has contributed to funds issues and belt-tightening measures. The system’s Board of Trustees voted to make use of reserves and COVID-19 reduction {dollars} and institute hiring freezes final November to handle a $5 million funds deficit throughout the system, The Portland Press Herald reported. The College of Maine at Farmington additionally laid off 9 full-time school members final 12 months.

Dannel Malloy, chancellor of the College of Maine system, mentioned he helps the free faculty program, however it’s onerous to compete with the simplicity and attract of the phrase “free.” The variety of college students who had been admitted to a College of Maine system campus however subsequently determined to attend a neighborhood faculty rose 79 % this 12 months in comparison with final 12 months, from 273 to 489 college students, based on knowledge from the college system. He emphasised that it’s nonetheless a “comparatively small” group, however the improve suggests rising curiosity in additional reasonably priced larger ed choices amongst their candidates.

The crux of the enrollment drawback is Maine is the “oldest state within the nation” by way of its inhabitants, “and for an extended time period, college students graduating from highschool [have] been a declining inhabitants,” he mentioned.

Malloy famous that system leaders are centered on updating dorms to draw extra college students and “rightsizing [the] worker base to replicate the present inhabitants versus the inhabitants that may have existed 10 or 20 years in the past.” The system can be engaged on a strategic plan that will double on-line choices in hopes of drawing learners who stopped out of faculty.

“We would like a robust neighborhood faculty system” and a robust switch pipeline to the college system, he mentioned of the free faculty program. “However we additionally need to make it possible for our college students are given the identical alternatives.”

State Senator Mike Tipping initially proposed a invoice in February that will waive half of the tutoring at College of Maine system campuses for as much as 4 years for college kids scheduled to graduate highschool in 2023, 2024 or 2025 and half of tuition for as much as one 12 months for returning college students dwelling within the state for at the very least 5 years who’re not more than 30 credit away from ending their levels. A draft of the invoice has since been amended and now proposes increasing a pre-existing program within the system that covers any remaining tuition after grants and scholarships for college kids who obtain the Pell Grant, federal monetary support for low-income college students. This system at the moment is obtainable at 4 universities and could be prolonged systemwide.

Samantha Warren, the system’s director of presidency and neighborhood relations, mentioned she believes there’s “sturdy help for increasing funding to make sure that tuition at Maine’s public universities continues to be reasonably priced and accessible to all Maine college students.”

“I feel there may be actually a recognition that the last-dollar neighborhood faculty program actually elevated their enrollment and that it’s vital for Maine college students to have selection, and for a lot of Maine college students that selection could also be Maine’s public universities,” she mentioned. “Constructing on the early success of free neighborhood faculty and recognizing the significance of offering Maine college students equitable entry to public larger training within the state, we’re very hopeful that it will transfer ahead.”

Daigler doesn’t imagine the free faculty program is in charge for the enrollment challenges on the state system’s universities, although he’s in favor of economic help for college kids who need to attend system campuses.

Of the 5,574 college students who enrolled by way of this system in fall 2022, 1,232 of them had been new, first-time neighborhood faculty college students; 749 had been college students who graduated highschool in 2020 and 2021 however hadn’t enrolled wherever till then, based on knowledge from the neighborhood faculty system.

“I’ve talked to these college students, they usually had the good thing about being out in the actual world and mentioned, ‘I have to get an training to get forward and free faculty is my ticket,’” he mentioned. “And so they wouldn’t have been capable of attend with out the free faculty program.”

The share of Maine highschool graduates going to varsity has declined through the years, from 63 % in 2015 to 54 % in 2021, based on Nationwide Pupil Clearinghouse Analysis Heart knowledge.

Daigler believes college students who took benefit of the free faculty program made “a price-based determination” about faculty and certain would have chosen neighborhood faculty over a four-year college anyway. He additionally famous that neighborhood faculties attracted a couple of quarter of Maine highschool graduates earlier than the pandemic and proceed to take action now.

It’s a “pure narrative” that neighborhood faculties are enrolling would-be college college students, given the contrasting developments, however he doesn’t imagine it holds up “if you start to dig into the numbers and what’s been taking place.”

The state Legislature is at the moment contemplating extending the free faculty program to highschool college students graduating in 2024 and 2025. Daigler hopes this system is ultimately made everlasting, however he additionally helps efforts to make college choices extra reasonably priced.

“Reducing the limitations to training in all classes … is of worth,” he mentioned. “I might encourage the state to contemplate making that funding.”

A gaggle of economics professors at Maine universities wrote an open letter in help of Tipping’s proposal. They expressed help for the free neighborhood faculty program however argued that “with out an accompanying coverage lowering the price of attending a college throughout the College of Maine System, this coverage is more likely to have a destabilizing impact on the system of public larger training in Maine and on college students themselves.”

Lisa Botshon, an English professor on the College of Maine at Augusta, mentioned school members are feeling the stress of enrollment declines. She highlighted the school layoffs at College of Maine at Farmington for example.

“They misplaced historians and philosophers,” she mentioned. “They misplaced this type of core group of college that had been invested in humanities and social sciences.”

She sees the layoffs as a loss for the college’s future college students.

“Fairly frankly … a giant a part of this drawback is simply the substantial lower in funding for public larger ed on the whole,” she added. The result’s “pitting establishments towards one another,” which is “actually self-destructive … We’d like extra public funding throughout.”

Maine isn’t the one state the place some professors really feel faculty affordability packages have shaken up the general public larger training ecosystem. Audrey Fisch, an English professor at New Jersey Metropolis College, highlighted the Backyard State Assure, launched by New Jersey governor Phil Murphy in 2021, which covers tuition for New Jersey college students with family incomes of $65,000 or under at state public universities for his or her third and fourth years.

She believes this system makes dearer public universities a greater deal for low-income college students and attracts them away from universities which have historically served them, akin to hers. She partly blames this system for continued enrollment declines at her college and the chopping of at the very least 30 full-time school members final December.

“We very a lot have a system by which the colleges are competing towards one another for enrollment … We’re very a lot tuition-dependent,” she mentioned. “Not all college students are as transportable, so the scholars who stay at New Jersey Metropolis College … are struggling the truth that the establishment has fewer and fewer sources to help these college students. That is each a neighborhood problem and a nationwide problem by way of this phenomenon.”

Ryan Morgan, CEO of the Marketing campaign for Free Faculty Tuition, a corporation that advocates without cost faculty packages, mentioned whereas “there could also be a drop in enrollment on the four-year faculties … there’s a internet improve in enrollment over all. From our perspective, so long as entry is rising, we’re joyful.”

He additionally famous that in Tennessee, greater than 31,000 college students earned a credential by way of the state’s free tuition program, and half of these college students transferred to a public four-year college, so universities could profit from a lift in switch college students down the road.

Daigler mentioned the neighborhood faculty and college techniques in Maine “work collectively very carefully.” On the identical time, some extent of competitors is “wholesome.”

“Normally, the scholar who desires to go to varsity has numerous choices and there’s competitors,” he mentioned. “I feel some degree of that makes us all higher. It retains us on our sport.”

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