The number of students attending college in the United States has dropped by more than one million since the spring of 2020. At that time, COVID-19 restrictions began to take effect across the United States.
Additionally, a number of US states are finding that they have fewer college-aged youth than in the past. Maine, a state in the northeastern United States, next to Canada, is one such state.
Decreasing numbers of young people and the effects of COVID-19 measures are making it difficult for major state universities to maintain student numbers.
But, while universities in some states are struggling to attract new students, the University of Maine in the town of Orono is not.
This is the case despite Maine being far behind most other states and having 10% fewer high school graduates than 10 years ago.
At a time when fewer Americans are going to college, the University of Maine was able to increase the number of undergraduate students by 5%. Why?
A recent story in the publication Hechinger Report said the University of Maine is ahead of other states in recruitment and retention measures.
The state reduces university tuition for students who come from other states and Canada. Due to Scholarships and other financial aid, many students can travel to Maine for the same price as a major university in their own state.
For example, the University of Maine advertises in neighboring Massachusetts. The ads say, “Go to the University of Maine for the cost of UMass in the state.” UMass stands for University of Massachusetts.
The university has approximately 12,000 students. While that sounds like a lot, it’s not as many as big schools like Ohio State University, which has about 60,000. As a result, the school tries to establish a strong connection with the possible students.
University leaders say they try to get to know all students who visit – even those who decide to go elsewhere.
Chris Richards is Vice President of registration management. He said the school needs everyone’s help to recruit the next class of students, not just people who work in the admissions office. It was the old way.
“This model,” he said, “will no longer work.”
Part of the new way is for university professors and researchers to give presentations on their work to nearby high schools. Another is to make visitors feel welcome.
Richards described helping someone who seemed new to the school grounds find their way. “People want that,” Richards said.
Em Jeffrey is a new student from neighboring New Hampshire. She said she noticed the difference between visiting Maine and visiting other schools.
“I definitely felt more welcomed. None of this was forced,” she said.
Jerome Lucido is studying college enrollment at the University of Southern California School of Education. He said the University of Maine is on the right track.
“I think there are lessons to be learned from what’s going on in Maine right now,” he said.
Richards said his university recognized the problem about 10 years ago when the number of high school students in Maine began to decline. At one point, 80% of the university’s students were from Maine. Now about 40 percent come from other states.
Additionally, there are over 450 international students in a degree program at the University of Maine. Other international students are in the school’s program for English learners.
Orlina Boteva is the Director of International Programs. She grew up in Bulgaria and came to study at the University of Maine. She completed postgraduate degrees there and has been working with international students since 2009.
She said that international students interested in the University of Maine will have to pay a similar cost as students from other states in the United States. But the university offers Scholarships from $5,000 to $20,000. Additionally, the university offers teaching assistant positions for graduate students.
Boteva said her department doesn’t do anything different from other schools in the northeastern United States to attract international students.
However, she said the university’s goal of connecting with students extends to those outside the United States. University officials travel to other countries to find students and meet their families. They even made a few visits last year when other universities did not send their representatives abroad. The university also tries to ensure that international students feel taken care of when they come to Maine.
“Our population is small enough that we get to know our students. They have a really great on-campus experience… So that experience really translates into a very high on-campus student experience rating as an international student.
As a former international student herself, Boteva said, she “cares deeply” about the experience students from other countries have while in Maine. She also wants students to know that it is possible to find out how to obtain a work visa and stay in the United States after completing a study program.
Boteva said the school also pays attention to students who come from countries with economic problems. The US dollar is much stronger today than it was a year ago. This means that it is more expensive to go to an American school. Boteva said the school will work with students who are already there but may struggle to pay.
Additionally, the University of Maine has just announced that it will change tuition fees for students who come from a war-affected country like Ukraine. They will now pay the same amount as students who come from Maine. This represents a big saving.
“This is really the first time that we as an institution have looked at what our assignmentas an institution to support students displaced by war.
She said the school is thinking about how it can help students find a path to education if their country becomes destabilized. This year, eight Ukrainian students are attending the University of Maine.
There is no guarantee that current ideas will continue to work in the future. But, Richards said he believes the university will continue to work to address the issue of dwindling student numbers. He said university leaders recognize the problem.
“The good thing for us,” he said, “is that our leadership hasn’t existed in the void false reality.
I am Dan Friedell.
Dan Friedell adapted this report for Learn English based on an article by The Hechinger Report, an independent, nonprofit news organization focused on educational inequality and innovation.
words in this story
recruit -v. to find qualified people to join a group or organization
retention -not. keeping someone in a job or school
stock Exchange -not. a sum of money that is given by a school, organization or individual to a student to pay for the student’s education
possible –adj. maybe become something in the future
registration -not. becoming a member or participating in something
postgraduate –adj. regarding school work done after obtaining a college diploma
assignment -not. a task or work given to someone
destabilized –adj. be affected in such a way that normal exercise cannot be continued
exist in a vacuum -idiom to exist in a state unaffected by other influences; completely apart and independent
We want to hear from you. Would you consider going to school in Maine?
We have a new comment system. Here’s how it works:
- Write your comment in the box.
- Below the box, you can see four images for social media accounts. They are for Disqus, Facebook, Twitter and Google.
- Click on an image and a box appears. Enter your social media account ID. Or you can create one on the Disqus system. It’s the blue circle with “D” on it. It’s free.
Every time you come back to comment on the Learning English site, you can use your account and see your comments and replies. Our feedback policy is here.