Enrollment is down at USM for the sixth consecutive year, but school officials say more freshman are returning for their sophomore year — a sign that efforts to improve retention are having an impact, they say.
According to registrar Steve Rand, fall enrollment is at 9,177 students — down from 9,222 students in the fall of 2009 and 10,453 in the fall of 2007.
According to Rand, while non-degree student enrollment is down, matriculated enrollment is up from the previous year. Positive enrollment trends include increases in the number of applications from undergraduate transfer students and deposits from new graduate students.
Over 70 percent of the first-time/full-time students from last year are returning this fall, which is above the target of 67 percent and 76 percent of full-time transfers are returning, up from the target of 73 percent, according to a press release from the university. Retention of graduate students has also increased with 71 percent expected to return with the national average being under 61 percent
According to a press release, the university credits the Student Success Centers that were established last year have played a pivotal role in retaining students.
“By no stretch of the imagination can we take all the credit,” said Paul Dexter, coordinator of the Gorham Student Success Center. Dexter said there are far too many other people in the university who also work hard and see student success as important.
“The university as a whole has moved in a direction that is more student centered. The idea that students know they can go to one office and get many of their needs met and get that warm transfer — that is clearly a move in the right direction,” said Dexter. He described a “warm transfer” as making sure if a student comes to one of the centers, someone will connect them directly with where they need to go, by a phone call or physically walk them there, and not just tell them where to go.
Dexter also said it has helped to encourage students to think about their career as their entire body of work. “Discussion of career is not separate from the notion of selecting a major or choosing courses,” he said.
The increased retention rate is good news for a university that has historically had trouble keeping students. USM President Selma Botman in an interview Thursday said the university is starting to turn a corner.
“I think we are in the best shape the university has been in for a very long time,” Botman said. “We’ve had two budgets that were balanced and ended two years with surpluses; we paid our debt back to the university three years early.”
“I’m in a very positive state of mind,” she said.
Dan MacLeod contributed reporting.