The UMaine system expects a sharp drop in registrations this fall, continuing its downward trend

The University of Maine system is expected to have significantly fewer students this coming school year, continuing a decade-long decline exacerbated by the pandemic.

The official figures will only arrive in the fall. But as of Thursday afternoon, there were 1,148, or 6.6%, fewer undergraduates enrolled to attend one of the system’s seven universities than at the same time last year. Compared to five years ago, in 2018 there are 12% fewer students expected to attend.

The rising freshman class has the largest percentage drop in enrollment. As of Wednesday, according to the latest available data, 2,828 students were enrolled, about 20% less than this time last year, when 3,517 students enrolled.

Declining enrollment could have a significant financial impact on the University of Maine system. Fewer students enrolled means fewer people sharing the cost of running a higher education institute, which could push the system to raise tuition or cut costs, possibly by closing campuses or continue to cut programs and employee positions. The system’s Orono campus is already planning to close a dining hall and a residence hall in part due to low expected enrollment.

Declining college enrollment is a national problem. There was a drop of 4.7%, or 662,000 students, in undergraduate enrollment in spring 2022 from the previous year. Over the past decade, the country’s secondary school enrollment has fallen by about 3 million students, according to data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, the research arm of a nonprofit organization that reports education data.

Experts say the decline in attendance could have serious and far-reaching negative economic and social consequences.

Reduced economic and social mobility, lower incomes, more unemployment, shortages of skilled workers, slower economic growth and fewer people voting are all potential results of fewer people attending and getting their degree from colleges and universities, said Josh Wyner, founder and executive director of the Academic Excellence Program at the nonprofit Aspen Institute.

“The decline in college enrollment is a huge problem for our society and our economy,” he said.

Wyner said a college degree is the surest way to get a good, well-paying job with benefits. But over the past decade, it seems a significant number of prospective students haven’t seen it that way.

Between 2010 and 2020, the number of Maine high school graduates enrolled in college dropped by about 10%. According to the New England Secondary Schools Consortium, 63.2% enrolled in 2010, but only 55.2% did so in 2020.

There is much speculation as to why fewer students are opting for two- or four-year degree programs. Many say prospective students are preoccupied with cost, time spent, and return on investment, wondering if college is really going to lead to a better life.

There is also a problem of declining birth rates. Nationally and in Maine, the birth rate declined for decades before the pandemic, but it was higher in Maine. Maine’s birth rate has increased from 17,313 in 1990 to 11,537 in 2020, even though the state’s overall population has increased over this period. There was a 4% increase in births in 2021.

The students most affected by this trend are low-income students. Low-income students in the United States in 2020 were 16% less likely to enroll in college immediately after high school compared to high-income students. According to the Clearinghouse Research Center, 65% of high-income school students enrolled in college the year they graduated from high school, but that number was only 49% for high-income students. low income.

Wyner said backing up college enrollment numbers will take a joint effort. Federal and state governments must reduce the financial burden of higher education for students by expanding need-based grants and aid programs, he said, and colleges must ensure that they offer high value degrees.

“It is not acceptable for colleges to enroll students and not do all they can to support students and ensure their degrees can be used for high-paying jobs,” he said. . “There is room for policymakers to support students and for colleges to deliver more value.”

With enrollment declining, UMaine system vice chancellor for academic affairs Robert Placido said keeping tuition flat — something the system has done seven of the past 10 years — will be a challenge unless it only continues to receive enough money from the state to make up from lost registration revenue. “We hope we don’t have to (raise tuition fees), but this is a serious concern.”

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