We are pleased to welcome nearly 2,300 new first-year students to the University of Maine campus this fall, the largest incoming class in the history of the university. These new students come from every county in the state. As Maine’s only land- and sea-grant university, we are committed to providing qualified Maine students with the kinds of educational opportunities that are only available at a public research university — opportunities to learn from world-class faculty, to work in state-of-the-art research facilities and to connect with businesses, nonprofits and other agencies through internships, field experiences and service learning courses. UMaine has been providing high-quality, affordable educational opportunities for Maine residents for more than 150 years.

While UMaine’s core mission will continue to be educating Maine residents, increasingly students from outside the state are taking advantage of the opportunities we offer. More than 1,000 of the first-year students who started classes at the Orono campus last week are from other states or countries. The large number of nonresident students enrolled this fall continues a trend of growing out-of-state enrollment at the University of Maine System’s flagship campus. That is good news for Maine.

The increasing number of nonresident students attending college in Maine is good for the Maine economy immediately and in the long run. Todd Gabe, UMaine professor of economics, recently evaluated the impact of UMaine’s out-of-state undergraduate students on Maine’s economy. Gabe surveyed students about their spending habits on items such as housing, food, tuition, entertainment and clothing as well as the spending of their friends and family members who visit them from out of state on items such as lodging and restaurants. Gabe’s analysis revealed that out-of-state undergraduate students — this includes the first-year students and those continuing their education at UMaine — annually generate about $160 million in economic activity in Maine. That’s a meaningful boost to the Maine economy, and it generates a substantial amount of tax revenue for the state.

Students from out of state are essential to Maine’s future economic health as well. Our state’s demographic challenges are well known. We have the oldest citizenry in the nation, with the number of Mainers 65 years of age or older on track account for more than 25 percent of the state’s population within the next 15 years. And while the number of older Mainers is growing, the number of younger Mainers is shrinking. A declining number of students graduate from Maine high schools every year, and this downward trend is projected to continue for at least the next decade.

Maine’s demography poses a serious threat to the state’s economy. Maine is facing a worker shortage that is on track to worsen over the next decade as baby boomer engineers, accountants, teachers, nurses, contractors, managers, business owners and other professionals move into retirement. Maine’s worker shortage is particularly pressing for the employment sectors that require advanced education. The business-led education advocacy group Educate Maine estimates that 60 percent of the adult workforce will need post-secondary educational credentials to fill employment needs. Currently, only about 42 percent of Maine’s workforce has these credentials. Similarly, FocusMaine has identified the need to attract, foster and grow “knowledge workers” as one of the keys to developing a stronger Maine economy.

UMaine’s success attracting out-of-state students will help meet the state’s need for an educated workforce. Surveys of recent UMaine graduates found that about 20 percent of students from away who graduate with a bachelor’s degree stay in the state to live and work after graduation. Maine needs these graduates.

Some may question whether UMaine’s focus on out-of-state recruitment will limit opportunities for prospective students born and raised in Maine. We can assure you that the answer to that question is no. If UMaine continues to enroll the same percentage of Maine’s high school graduates as we have historically, the absolute number of Maine students enrolling will decrease because of the changing demographics, creating room for more out-of-state students. Furthermore, under Chancellor James Page’s One University vision for the university system, UMaine and the other six campuses are collaborating to ensure there are opportunities for all Maine residents to obtain an affordable, high-quality education.

Expansion of Maine’s educated workforce is essential for a vibrant Maine economy, and educating more out-of-state students in Maine is essential to that expansion. UMaine is proud to be a partner in building a stronger Maine.

Susan J. Hunter is president of the University of Maine. Jeffrey E. Hecker is provost of UMaine.