A University of Maine at Presque Isle student enters the university's Campus Center, Sept. 12, 2022. Credit: Sawyer Loftus / BDN

For the sixth semester in a row, the University of Maine at Presque Isle is bucking nationwide and university system enrollment trends with a projected increase in the number of students who will attend the Aroostook County campus this spring.

The University of Maine System in June 2022 anticipated a 4 percent decrease in system-wide enrollment, but the official student count on Oct. 15 was down 5 percent from last fall, representing a decline of about 1,000 students. The system’s enrollment matches a national trend of fewer students attending college during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s a trend with profound effects on the system’s financial health because it increases the chances of having to raise tuition in the coming years.

Despite its rural setting in northern Maine, UMPI has seen its overall number of students grow over the past three years, the university’s president Raymond Rice said during a UMaine system board of trustees meeting Monday.

“I’m very thankful to the faculty, staff and students at the University of Maine at Presque Isle,” Rice said. “This is the sixth semester in a row that we have seen significant enrollment increases at our institution. The plurality of that is in our distance education program.”

When looking at student enrollment data from the same period across five years, Rice said enrollment at UMPI grew by 5.9 percent this year, rising from a student population of 1,088 last spring to 1,152 in the same semester in 2023. Three years ago, the number of students enrolled in the spring at UMPI was 882, making 2023’s enrollment figures 30 percent higher.

Approximately 1,218 students enrolled last fall, up from 900 three years ago. And much of the growth has come from attracting more adult students.

The University of Maine System has identified these nontraditional students as a priority if it is to recover from long-term enrollment drops in a state where graduating high school classes have grown smaller over time and fewer of those who do graduate have been enrolling in college.

As part of the broader University of Maine System, UMPI often competes with the other campuses for undergraduates. What sets UMPI apart from the rest of the system and other higher education institutions in New England is a program called YourPace.

YourPace is a completely online program that costs much less than a typical four-year institution and allows students to complete their courses as quickly — or as slowly — as they want.

Students participate in condensed, eight-week sessions and pay a flat rate of from $1,400 to $2,000 per session, depending on the program. During any given session, each student determines how much work they can get done.

Rice said much of the success his university is seeing is tied to the growth of the YourPace program.

Other UMaine system institutions haven’t fared as well, since all but UMPI have experienced enrollment declines for the spring semester, which began on Jan. 17, forcing them to adjust their budgets to close financial gaps caused by the lower number of students.  

The university system shows a 4.3 percent decline in the number of enrolled students compared with this time last year. That decrease grows when compared with 2021, 2020 and 2019, according to data from the University of Maine System.

On Monday, the board of trustees approved the latest round of budget adjustments for the University of Maine, which has to close a $15 million gap in its budget, and the University of Maine at Farmington, which is short $2 million.

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Sawyer Loftus

Sawyer Loftus is an investigative reporter at the Bangor Daily News. A graduate of the University of Vermont, Sawyer grew up in Vermont where he worked for Vermont Public Radio, The Burlington Free Press...