College students are returning to campuses across the country this week. In New England, a demographic shift has some public colleges and universities trying to fill seats by luring students from neighboring states.
Madalyn Jorge has already said yes to one such appeal. She’s 18 and lives in Ayer, Massachusetts. Last year, as she was considering her college options, she heard about an interesting possibility from a teacher.
“She was a computer teacher,” Jorge recalled. “I had her for yearbook. She had mentioned about how you could get in-state tuition but go to Maine.”
Jorge could attend the University of Maine not for the regular out-of-state cost of almost $29,000 but for what she’d pay to go to UMass Amherst as an in-state student: around $14,000. Maine calls this the Flagship Match program. It began last year and includes similar offers to students from Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
Joel Wincowski, the university’s vice president for enrollment management, helped devise the program. He said colleges in the region are under pressure to think creatively to attract students because the number graduating high school these days is declining.
“It’s declining in every state in New England right now and Maine is a very small state so you can only draw so many students out of the state of Maine,” he said.
Wincowski also pointed out that the program is not only designed to benefit his state for the four years students spend on campus.
The more students from out of state we bring in, the stronger our work force in the state of Maine will be because I believe 20 percent of our students will stay in state,” he said.
The program is already having an impact; the university has seen a 40 percent jump in out-of-state enrollment. According to Wincowski, the biggest increase has been in Massachusetts. The number of freshmen from the state has gone from 285 to 483. There have been enrollment bumps as well in Connecticut and the other states.
The University of Maine might have the most prominent of these deals in New England, but it’s not alone. This fall, Massachusetts residents will be able to attend Asnuntuck Community College, which is just over the state line in Enfield, Connecticut, for the in-state price. That means instead of paying over $12,000 a year, full-time students will pay about $4,000.
James Lombella, who is president of Asnuntuck, said the college has been operating under capacity and that the pool of available high school students is part of the challenge.
“The demographics for coming out of the high schools is decreasing about 1.8 percent annually so for that age population we definitely have seen a decline in enrollments,” Lombella said. “Asnuntuck’s average age is 27-and-a-half years old. A lot of non-traditional students at our school. And of course, these upgrade their skills and get them jobs and better jobs.”
One student hoping for a better job is 29-year-old Jaime Cabezas. He lives in East Longmeadow, Massachusetts, but works in accounting in Connecticut. He’s taking two courses this fall at Asnuntuck, which he needs in order to sit for the exam to be a CPA. The discount is why he decided to act.
If it wasn’t for that, the cost would be, like, triple pretty much as an out-of-state student,” he said. “And if I would go to Springfield, that would take me off my path from work and everything and that would just add up to my time.”
The University of Maine is expanding its match program to Rhode Island, Illinois and California next year.
Madalyn Jorge from Ayer, Massachusetts, is already on campus, going for a degree in marine science.
College costs have gotten so expensive that so many people are coming out with huge amounts of debt that you know, you’re paying it off for half of your life,” Jorge said. “I think it’s an incredible offer that I’m able to…get that out-of-state opportunity but with that in-state cost.”
Massachusetts students may be heading out of state at a discount, but a Bay State school has also gotten into the game. Berkshire Community College in Pittsfield now allows students from New York and New England to attend at close to the in-state rate.