Maine’s community colleges saw historically high enrollment this fall, surpassing the previous record which had been set in 2011, according to a press release from the Maine Community College System (MCCS).
19,477 students enrolled in the MCCS this fall, representing a 16% increase compared to last year’s enrollment of 16,792.
The record-setting enrollment in 2011 came in at a total of 17,911 students.
The MCCS credits several new programs and initiatives for the uptick in enrollment this year, including:
- “A new tuition-free scholarship for recent high school graduates”
- “Expanded nursing programs statewide”
- “More than 700 short-term workforce students moving into degree programs”
- “An easing of pandemic-related restrictions that expanded on-campus housing capacity”
“At a time when Maine desperately needs more skilled workers and Mainers need good jobs to support themselves and their families, we’re extremely pleased to see enrollment increase so significantly,” David Daigler, President of the MCCS, said in the press release.
“These numbers show the strength of our offerings, the hard work and drive of our students, and the promise of a stronger economy for Maine as these students enter the workforce or continue on to four-year degrees and beyond,” Daigler said. “I am humbled by how hard the people at the colleges and system have worked to make the dream of a college education come to fruition for so many Mainers who want the opportunity to improve their lives through education.”
Of the 19,477 enrollees, 61% or 8,186 qualify for free tuition under the Free College Scholarship program.
3,668 of these students are enrolling in the state’s community college system for the first time, while 4,518 are returning to the system for a second year.
Representing a $15 million investment by the state, students who graduate high school in 2024 and 2025 are now also going to be eligible for the expanded Free College Scholarship program.
The program covers up to two years of education at one of Maine’s community colleges.
Students who graduated high school out of state, as well as those who are noncitizens, are eligible for the program according to the Maine Community Colleges website.
In addition to the scholarship, the MCCS has also recently added 200 seats to the system’s nursing program, expanded on-campus housing, and saw 700 short-term workforce graduates enroll in degree programs — all factors that likely contributed to the heightened enrollment this fall.
It was announced in late August that the MCCS also experienced a significant increase in early enrollment — up 18% compared to last year — setting the tone for this fall’s historic numbers.
The scholarship that the MCCS credits in part for its dramatic enrollment gains this fall was originally designed as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which severely impacted many students’ educational trajectories.
Nationwide, community college enrollment dropped by approximately 17% during the pandemic, and the scholarship was intended to help students in Maine to reengage with learning if they had a desire to do so.
The program’s most recent extension to high school graduates from the classes of 2024 and 2025 signals that it has likely become divorced from its original motivations.
This shift was also intimated by Daigler in a statement released earlier this year announcing the expansion, in which he stated that “extending Free College to the Classes of 2024 and 2025 tells today’s high school students that the State of Maine believes in them and is willing to invest in them and their future.”
It remains to be seen whether the program’s efficacy in raising community college enrollment will remain consistent as the primary beneficiaries of the scholarship become increasingly distanced from the extraordinary conditions that originally inspired its creation.