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Students walk to class. Photo by Jason Gentile.

UMaine faces enrollment decline

ORONO, Maine – The University of Maine System has begun facing trying financial times in light of recent statewide hardships. These include a drop in enrollment, spending, hiring and travel, thus forcing the president and board of trustees to make some difficult decisions surrounding spending and budget cuts. 

The University of Maine System, which consists of eight schools statewide, has been struggling financially for some time now, but its struggles have recently been exacerbated since the COVID-19 crisis in 2019. Enrollment has seen a steady annual drop, which is only predicted to get worse in coming years. This has been credited with a lack of faith regarding the value of a college degree from Gen-Z students, the decrease in the population of young people in the state and the decrease in affordability of higher education due in part to current inflation. 

While most of the cost cutting has gone relatively unnoticed by UMaine students, as of this academic year, students will be feeling the burn as well. For the current 2023-2024 academic year, both in-state and out-of-state students will be subject to a 3% tuition increase as well as an increased cost of room and board and other student fees. While all campuses will be seeing this rise in cost, some are predicted to struggle more than others. 

While the schools of the University of Maine System are state-funded, a portion of the budget that such funds are meant to cover has decreased significantly since the inflation crisis. The tuition fees being paid by current and incoming students during this fiscal year will be used to close this gap. The rest of the university’s expenses that these fees won’t cover will be covered by profits made from athletics, dining, housing and conferences hosted by the University of Maine System. 

This unprecedented financial crisis has done much more than just jeopardize the school’s affordability and enrollment, in turn. It also sowed a seed of doubt surrounding the capability of the school’s administration. 

In order to grasp the scope of this issue, it is important to note that 47% of the system’s revenue is covered by tuition. Back in 1972, nearly 70% of the school’s funding was covered by the state and the other 30% of costs were covered by tuition. Trouble surrounding enrollment first presented itself as an impending problem back in the fall of 2013. From then until the fall of 2022, statewide enrollment dropped by nearly 17%. Although this might not sound like much, it has served as a devastating blow to the University of Maine System.  

As for the specific statistics surrounding enrollment according to college major, between the fall semester of  2018 to 2022 enrollment for the College of Engineering, Division of Lifelong Learning and Maine Business School has increased slightly. In stark contrast to this, enrollment rates for the Colleges of Education and Human Development, Liberal Arts and Sciences, Natural Sciences, Forestry, & Agriculture and other programs have seen a slight yet steady drop. 

Another demographic that should be considered in terms of enrollment is UMaine’s veteran population. Veteran students make up nearly 2.5% of all degree seeking undergraduates. They also make up for 3.2% of the UMaine graduate student population. While the rate of enrollment for veterans in undergrad programs has steadily decreased over the past ten years from 245 in the fall of 2013 to 212 as of fall 2022, the rate for veterans in graduate programs has been increasing. In 2013 the number of veterans in the graduate programs was no more than 26. However as of fall 2022 it has been reported that as many as 72 veterans were fully enrolled. 

In terms of tuition affordability, the UMaine student population is not the only one struggling to afford school. Across the entire state the average tuition rate for in-state students for the academic year of 2022-2023 is $19,224 and $24,994 for out-of-state students. And despite the state’s size, only 70,324 students are currently enrolled statewide, only adding to the uncertainty surrounding the future of both the affordability and worthwhileness of higher education in the state of Maine.

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