USM fall enrollment drops four to six percent

The eighth floor of the Wood Tower of Dickey-Wood Hall on USM's Gorham campus is currently vacant, not unlike the top five floors of the Dickey Tower of the Dickey-Wood Hall tower-duo.
Patrick Higgins
The eighth floor of the Wood Tower of Dickey-Wood Hall on USM's Gorham campus is currently vacant, not unlike the top five floors of the Dickey Tower of the Dickey-Wood Hall tower-duo.

Posted on September 09, 2013 in News
By Sidney Dritz

Patrick Higgins

USM’s admissions office projects that enrollment for the fall 2013 semester will drop four to six percent from last fall, a decrease of between 375 and 563 students.

This decrease comes in the aftermath of an announcement by the U.S. Census Bureau that 2012 saw a huge drop in national college admissions, with half a million fewer students enrolling in college than the year before – a break in a five year streak of increasing nationwide enrollment. However, during this time, USM has not followed national trends, with admission dropping gradually between 2008 and 2011.

The final numbers will not be calculated until the middle of October, but the projections are based on enrollment patterns in previous years, as applied by a projection tool which, according to Chief Student Success Officer Susan Campbell, is still in development. Campbell said that USM’s range of target demographics might make USM’s enrollment totals fluctuate for longer than most schools. “Adult students with families,” she said, “might take longer to enroll, and to show up in the figure.”

According to Campbell, there are a number of campuses in the UMS that are experiencing a decline in enrollment. However, she said,  the University of Maine at Orono has gained  a number of out of state students. Campbell said she thinks that was intentional. “From what I understand, that was a concentrated enrollment strategy.”

USM’s own strategy, Campbell said, also involved looking for students out of state, mostly in the surrounding New England states. Though, this strategy is not without its complications, Campbell admitted. Massachusetts, she said, has invested a significant amount of money in financial aid programs designed to keep Massachusetts high school graduates in the state, making out of state public schools a less attractive option to those students.

Bob Caswell, executive director of public affairs, outlined USM’s approach to boosting declining numbers, saying, “We have to make USM more distinctive and attractive to students.”

Campbell expanded on that, describing USM’s work with the Aspirations program, which allows Maine high school students to take USM classes before they graduate. USM uses other outreach programs, including one last year, in which the USM Student Success Center partnered with guidance counselors at Thornton Academy, Casco Bay and Kennebunk high schools. The program was meant to identify students who might be interested in USM or who might not be planning on attending college. Those students then met and talked with a member of the USM Student Success Office and their own guidance counselor about their future plans.

“That way, when they came to visit USM, they already had a contact,” Campbell said.

Campbell stressed the significance of already having a contact on campus, saying that one of the most crucial parts of working to smooth the high school to college transition, is the attempt to make the unfamiliar, accessible.

“The president is very clear that student success, community engagement and fiscal responsibility are our three goals,” Campbell said.

She went on to say that, in part because of the efforts she described, “I think our enrollment will be sustained.” The Student Success office plans to expand this high school outreach program to 25 schools in Maine and the New England area in the coming year.

Another important part of drawing in new students, Campbell said, is the programs offered. Specifically, she said, the Environmental Science program, the Tourism and Hospitality program and the music program are a significant draw for potential students. When asked about the controversial cuts to the music program in the Spring 2013 semester [“Music education faculty halved due to university budget cuts,” April 08, 2013], Campbell said, “I don’t know that I have seen the impact in terms of our ability to recruit students.”

Campbell’s vision for USM’s appeal to future students lies in the expectation of an application of learning outside the classroom. Largely, this application ought to be in the form of internships, but, Campbell said, “I would love for us to get to a point where all students who wish to do so get to study abroad.”

When asked how the drop in enrollment will impact USM in the coming year, Campbell replied that, in the coming year, focus must be on retention of students who enroll in the fall through the spring semester and on spring enrollment.

Despite declining enrollment, according to Caswell, “One bright spot is the fact that the number of students living on the Gorham campus has remained steady with last year, about 1,150, compared to 900 in the fall of 2011.”

More specifically, Campbell said that dorm occupancy for the 2013 to 2014 year, as of Aug. 24, shows 1,160 of the 1,256 spaces filled, an increase from fall 2011’s occupancy of 1,002, but a drop from 2012’s 1,178, a fluctuation in keeping with the corresponding fluctuation of enrollment rates.

This leaves 96 available residence spaces vacant, approximately eight percent of the dorm space. However, this calculation does not include floors 3 through 8 of the Dickey tower of Dickey-Wood Hall, which are currently closed.

Campbell spoke of a move to encourage graduate students to live on campus, with the notion that their presence will contribute to undergraduate life. According to Joy Pufhal, Chief of Staff of the Division of Student Affairs, this idea has taken shape in the form of a graduate intern community on the fourth floor of Hastings Hall, which currently houses four graduate students.

In a statement to the Free Press, Pufhal expanded upon the demographics in the dorms this year.

“We have an increase in upperclass students returning to housing,” Pufhal said. “As a result we have seen a 12 percent increase in occupancy in Upperclass Hall this fall and a 98 percent increase in occupancy of ‘large singles [single rooms]’ across the Gorham campus.”

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