Central Maine guidance counselors say that the University of Maine at Farmington decision to eliminate its $40 student application fee could expand the number of students applying.

“It makes a difference to some of them,” said Michael Ellis, director of guidance for Mt. Abram High School. “I just had one student in here who has to wait until after the New Year to pay his application fees.”

UMF announced this week that it would be the first school in the University of Maine System to offer free application for all applicants as of Jan. 1, and the college will reimburse those who already applied for 2015.

Eileen Reading, UMF’s associate director of admission, said while eliminating the application fee will be a loss of that fee money, college officials see it as an investment.

“It certainly is a loss of revenue,” she said. “But we weren’t thinking about costs. We were really looking at how can we improve access and make it equal across the board.”

Reading said UMF received about 1,750 applications to enter school in the 2014 fall semester, although some of those applications were granted waivers on the fees. About 1,900 total full-time students are enrolled at UMF.

At the University of Maine at Augusta, there is no formal policy about waiving application fees but a college official there said the fees are waived if cost is an issue for a prospective student.

“It’s definitely been talked about before, and there’s no question Farmington doing this will have us talking about it again,” said Robert Stein, spokesman for UMA. “It’s not unusual for us to waive an application fee; we never let an application fee or ability to pay get in the way of applying for UMA. Whether or not we follow their (UMF’s) road, or keep with our own informal policy, we’ll see.”

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, which operates under the U.S. Department of Education, approximately 490 U.S. colleges have application fees of $50 or greater, 239 of which are public institutions.

“It’s a nice gift,” said Ben Milster, director of school counseling for Mt. Blue High School. “If they’re applying for three to seven to 10 schools, those application fees stack up.”

Milster said this decision, along with UMF’s move two years ago to waive room fees for local students, fits into the university’s brand of being a Maine school that understands the needs of the students.

“It’s part of having a welcoming atmosphere and being student oriented and not being a major university where students just get lost in the shuffle,” he said.

Reading said there are some students that may be limited in the amount they can spend on applying for schools and UMF isn’t on the top of the list of schools they plan to apply for. By eliminating the application fee for UMF, she said if that student is still able to apply for the university, they may realize later that UMF “is the best match for them.”

“We are investing in those students who might not otherwise consider us,” she said. “Our leadership was bold in doing that. It’s about access for everyone.”

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