Saturday, January 19th, 2019

Enrollment continues to decline this semester

Abigail Johnson-Ruscansky

Posted on January 22, 2015 in News
By Francis Flisiuk

Classrooms this spring semester will have 374 fewer students in them than last year, based on the current headcount released by the academic affairs. 

While not completely final, because students may still add or drop courses during the month, the numbers of enrolled students in the spring these past three years show a steady declin–6,717 students have enrolled so far this spring, compared to 7,652 two years prior. 

The general opinion, after gathering 20 individual responses from both past and current students, is that USM often serves as a prospective students “back up school.” Many said that USM’s biggest attraction is its affordability, an area that the administration wants to focus on when marketing to potential applicants. Despite its competitive price in the higher education market, USM has served as a “last resort” to students like Brianna Wolfe, a risk management graduate. 

“I settled on USM,” said Wolfe. “If I could go back, I probably would have not chosen to com here, although I’ve met some great people here.”

In Wolfe’s opinion, news of program eliminations, faculty layoffs and student protests may have scared off potential applicants. According to Wolfe, USM could also use a “facelift” on its “nasty 60’s and 70’s buildings,” which might help attract more students. 

“If I were applying now to colleges and I heard about USM, I wouldn’t even waste my money on the application fee,” said Wolfe. “Why waste my precious money on a place, like USM, that is going to be dead in only a matter of years?”

Douglas McIntire, an English graduate, also said that the bad press is driving away students and USM wasn’t even on his radar when he was researching grad school. McIntire’s first choice for college was USM, but “wishy washy” guidelines for his then art major and a lack of guidance sent him away to St. Joeseph’s College. According to McIntire, the only reason he came back to USM was because of finances, but after majoring in English he had no regrets. 

“The English department is the best,” said McIntire. “It’s like finding a diamond ring in Goodwill.”

Sarah Gelber, a recent English graduate, agrees and said that her program was a “hidden gem,” but the school overall has a bad reputation it needs to work on. Gelber said that students in high school are hearing rumours that USM is an example of how higher education shouldn’t operate. 

“What ultimately saved my opinion of USM was my program; I can’t tell you how much I loved it,” said Gelber. “I hope USM will remain the same, as I remember it, for future students.”

Although Gelber loves the city of Portland and it influenced her decision to come to USM, she believes that the lack of cohesion with Gorham may contribute to the declining retention. 

“Another big issue at USM is a lack of community,” said Gelber. 

John Finison, an English graduate, also came to USM because of its prime location in Portland, although it was his backup school. Finison said he was originally searching for an “authentic” college experience out of state. 

“I say authentic because it seems USM tries to “reinvent” itself every few years by hiring a new marketing team, when what the school really lacks are traditions,” said Finison. 

Students fresh out of high school, like Colin Broadbent and Emily Cabana, have been accepted to USM, but are still on the fence as to whether or not they’ll attend. Broadbent said that USM’s location and the athletics department are some of the influencing factors in his tentative decision to attend. For Cabana, who plans on being an operating nurse at Maine Medical Center, USM’s nursing school is piquing her interest in becoming a Huskie. 

“I love the atmosphere of the Portland campus,” said Cabana. “My friends that go here already recommended it to me, and I heard the nursing program is really great.” 

The reasons for leaving USM, or never even considering it as a higher education option are diverse and complex. Students cited everything from the lack of academic guidance, to the split campuses as reasons for the slow exodus of prospective Huskies. According to Chris Quint, the executive director of public affairs, all of the administration’s current initiatives, will capitalize on USM’s strengths and intrinsically attract more students. 

Quint said that the administration has been working to recruit and market to out of state students in the New Hampshire, Connecticut and Northern Massachusetts. USM recruiters are also working to “establish a foothold” in York county, because according to Quint a lot of students from that area choose to go to UNH. 

“The biggest things we’re pushing are our cost, our location and our quality programs; these are our strengths,” said Quint. 

Apart from just an increase in targeted marketing, Quint cited the latest aligning to a metropolitan model, and the consolidation of student services as other initiatives that will help attract and keep students. 

“We’re going to be focusing on the programs that are already doing well,” said Quint. “But there are a number of programs on the precipice of greatness. We want all our programs aligned with the metropolitan model.”

According to the enrollment comparison report, the art education, music performance, theatre, English,  history, philosophy, computer science, political science, engineering, chemistry and environmental science departments were the only ones that showed an increase in students. 

Paul Dexter, the learning coordinator at the learning commons in the Glickman library, said that declining enrollment and retention is a complex issue and there were many forces that contributed to it. 

“This isn’t a campus centric issue, and there’s no one way to resolve it,” said Dexter. “That’s why it’s so important to think of new ideas.”

Dexter said that increasing accessibility to the learning commons, a tutoring space for students, will increase a student’s confidence with their academic path and in turn help with retention. Dexter wants to change the culture of tutoring, to mean less about remediation and more about engaging in concepts learned in the classroom. 

“Tutoring at the library is directly related to a student’s success; it isn’t just for people who are struggling,” said Dexter. “We’re trying to make learning and the appropriate levels of support as efficient and accessible as possible.”

As of now, a student can go online and see the tutoring schedule for the entire semester, and choose from a multitude of subject areas, with a team of over 50 tutors, at no additional cost to them. According to Dexter, the learning commons saw 2,500 different tutoring appointments last year. 

“Students leave for a multitude of reasons, and as a University we need to have a response,” said Dexter. “We need to identify those students early on and make sure we engage them and offer enough support.” 

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