Fall enrollment up 16% at Maine’s community colleges, SMCC up 20%

AUGUSTA, ME (MCCS) — Enrollment at Maine’s community colleges hit a historic high of 19,477 students this fall, surpassing the record set in 2011 and up 16 percent from last year.

Enrollment was boosted by a new tuition-free scholarship for recent high school graduates, expanded nursing programs statewide, more than 700 short-term workforce students moving into degree programs, and an easing of pandemic-related restrictions that expanded on-campus housing capacity.

“At a time when Maine desperately needs more skilled workers and Mainers need good jobs to support themselves and their families, we’re extremely pleased to see enrollment increase so significantly,” said David Daigler, president of the Maine Community College System (MCCS).

“These numbers show the strength of our offerings, the hard work and drive of our students, and the promise of a stronger economy for Maine as these students enter the workforce or continue on to four-year degrees and beyond,” Daigler said. “I am humbled by how hard the people at the colleges and system have worked to make the dream of a college education come to fruition for so many Mainers who want the opportunity to improve their lives through education.”

Total headcount this fall is 19,477 students, up from 16,792 students last year, according to the official tally on October 15. The previous high point was 17,911 students in 2011.

Sixty-one percent, or 8,186 students, qualified for free tuition under the Free College Scholarship because they graduated from high school or earned a Hi-SET diploma in 2020, 2021, 2022, or 2023. The scholarship covers 100 percent of a student’s tuition and mandatory fees, which is $3,750 a year for the average full-time student. That’s the lowest college tuition in New England.

Of the 8,186 Free College Scholarship-eligible students this fall, 3,668 are new students enrolling for the first time, and 4,518 are continuing community college students who were previously enrolled.

Since the Free College Scholarship program was proposed by Governor Janet Mills and enacted by the Legislature in early 2022, 11,543 Free College Scholarship-eligible students have enrolled, surpassing the administration’s target of enrolling 8,000 students by the end of the 2023-24 academic year.

“The impact of the Free College Scholarship is impressive,” Daigler said. “In its first year, it attracted a higher-than-expected number of young men and lower-income students to college. As a group, they had a higher fall-to-spring retention rate than the rest of the student body. All of that is particularly noteworthy since these students had a high school experience significantly disrupted by the pandemic. We’re looking forward to welcoming the graduating classes of 2024 and 2025 to this transformative scholarship.”

In addition to offering a tuition-free scholarship, 2022-23 was also the year Maine’s community colleges added 200 seats to the nursing program; had more than 700 short-term workforce graduates enroll in degree programs; and expanded on-campus housing as pandemic-related restrictions eased.

Official fall enrollment figures do not include the thousands of students enrolled in rolling short-term workforce programs that take less than a year to complete. Last year, 12,000 students enrolled in short-term workforce programs over the course of the year. Those courses focus on tailored job skills training that prepares students for their first job or helps them advance in their career in the trades, health care, hospitality, business, and many other Maine industries. Last year, more than 700 short-term training graduates earned scholarships to enroll in a degree or certificate program.

Altogether, MCCS serves more than 30,000 students a year through early college courses, two-year degree programs, one-year certificate programs, short-term workforce training, advanced certificates, and continuing education.