THUMBS UP to the University of Maine System, which is reporting a 12 percent increase in out-of-state first-year students coming to the system’s seven campuses this fall.

The increase is driven by the two biggest campuses, University of Maine in Orono and University of Southern Maine, both of which are adding about 16 percent more students from outside of Maine.

That is important to the system’s bottom line, as out-of-state students pay much more in tuition than in-state students, helping the system bridge a budget gap at a time of tuition freezes and flat state funding. For instance, the 941 new out-of-state students headed to the Orono campus will pay $27,970 a year in tuition and fees, as opposed to $10,700 for Maine students, bringing an extra $16.3 million into system coffers.

UMaine is not alone in the effort to attract out-of-state students. Many state college systems are in similar financial situations as Maine, and most are becoming aggressive recruiters.

The University of California system, for instance, will have a record number of out-of-state students this fall, comprising as much as 30 percent of the freshman class at some of the campuses. In Arizona, college system officials have lobbied to get the cap of out-of-state students raised to 40 percent.

The competition is particularly heavily in the Northeast, where the number of college-age residents is falling.

Adding out-of-state students can be beneficial beyond financial considerations, too. It can increase the cultural and ethnic diversity, and bring more talent to campus. Also, it helps promote the school to other parts of the country.

There are drawbacks, however, including out-of-state students taking the place of the in-state students the system should be focused on. Out-of-state students are also more likely to leave after a year, which is good neither for the school nor the student.

THUMBS DOWN to one of the side effects of Maine’s loose early-voting rules, which are certainly extending political campaigns but may not be doing much to increase voter turnout.

Maine early voting comes in the form of no-excuse absentee voting, with ballots available 45 days before the election. In 2012, absentee votes made up 26 percent of the ballots cast, up from 23 percent in 2010.

That has caught the attention of campaigns, which have to start tracking and reaching out to voters earlier in the cycle, providing yet another advantage to the candidates backed by the big parties.

Early voting mechanisms have been implemented to increase voter turnout. Research, however, shows that it may not help out as much as expected — some believe it detracts from Election Day itself, cutting down the focus on that single day that can raise attention and encourage citizens to get to the polls.

Maine should be proud of its high voter turnout. The state should protect turnout rates by continuing to support mechanisms such as same-day voter registration.

And some form of early voting makes sense, as many Mainers work outside of their community and may find it difficult to get to the polls on that single day.

But perhaps it is time to reconsider the 45-day lead time, so that more of the action of each election actually takes place around Election Day.

THUMBS UP to the Winthrop Area Rotary Foundation, which reportedly drew nearly 500 people to last weekend’s third annual Family Barbecue & Gumbo Festival to End Hunger.

Proceeds from the fundraiser will go toward the Winthrop Food Pantry, which is now helping 110 families a month, up from 40 per month in 2011. One to five new families sign up every week, food pantry officials said.

That experience is echoed at food pantries throughout Maine, which has the worst rate of food insecurity in New England. According to Feeding America, nearly 180,000 of Maine’s 1.3 million residents — more than 13 percent — rely on food pantries.

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