The University of Maine is seeing record enrollment this fall, driven by increases in graduate and out-of-state students.

Total enrollment at the Orono campus, comprised of undergraduate, graduate and early college students, is 11,989 students, an increase of 2.1 percent from fall 2020, when it was 11,741 students.

Officials say its the highest Orono-based enrollment in the university’s history, not counting programs at the Bangor campus, which is now part of the University of Maine at Augusta but was part of UMaine Orono’s student population from 1970 to 1994.

“We are very excited about our trends right now and how our numbers are looking, particularly in a time of a pandemic when higher ed around the country is facing a range of challenges,” said University of Maine President Joan Ferrini-Mundy. “The state of Maine and the University of Maine System and the University of Maine all have, I think, come through tremendously well in this period.”

Overall enrollment in the University of Maine System is down 0.5 percent this fall to 26,111 students. Undergraduate enrollment is down 2.6 percent from fall 2020 to 21,166, while graduate enrollment is up 9.5 percent to 4,945 students.

The numbers indicate Maine’s public universities have fared about the same as or better than others nationally as the pandemic has disrupted higher education across the country. Nationally, enrollment in post-secondary education is down 2.3 percent this fall and 4.6 percent since fall 2019. Enrollment in public four-year colleges and universities is down 2.3 percent, while overall graduate school enrollment is up 2.1 percent, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.


On the flagship campus in Orono, the number of undergraduate students is virtually unchanged from last year and down slightly from fall 2019. There are currently 9,051 undergraduates compared to 9,050 last year and 9,110 in fall 2019.

The growth is being driven by graduate student enrollment, which is up 11.7 percent from last year to 2,542 students. Ferrini-Mundy said there are several reasons for the growth in graduate programs, including efforts to make online graduate programs, including the master of business administration, more widely available. An increased emphasis on research growth has also created opportunities for more graduate education.

“We have funding for graduate assistants, research assistants and bringing students into labs and into areas of graduate education and trying to grow that as part of overall research growth,” Ferrini-Mundy said. “We’re excited about it and I think it brings a level of diversity and strength to our system in general.”

The university has also seen growth in out-of-state enrollment, which increased 5 percent over last year to 4,524 students. Some out-of-state students may have gravitated toward the university because of Maine’s relatively low COVID case numbers compared to other states throughout most of the pandemic, though officials said it’s hard to quantify. UMaine Vice President of Enrollment Management Christopher Richards said he has heard more from parents than students about COVID safety being a factor in enrollment decisions.

“It’s certainly been a piece and I can say the safety factor overall has long been seen as a positive for us in our recruitment in many markets,” Richards said. “So I’m not surprised if that’s a piece of it. We’re seeing a lot of people really wanting to engage in the outdoors and have access to nature and recreational opportunities, so those two things have been key in what we’re seeing in feedback.”

Undergraduate enrollment trends on UMaine System campuses are varied, with three of the system’s seven campuses reporting flat or increased enrollment while four are reporting decreases. Graduate enrollment is up across the board.


At the University of Southern Maine, undergraduate enrollment is down 7.6 percent from 5,322 students to 4,915. Vice President for Enrollment Management and Marketing Jared Cash said the shift isn’t a reflection of this year’s freshman class but rather upperclass students who may not be returning at the same rate as they have in the past because of pandemic challenges.

“There is a section of (students) that are part-time, working towards their degree by design over a long period of time, working at the same time or taking care of major obligations in their family economics and that group, I think, is one of the groups not persisting at the same rate as their traditional peers,” Cash said.

At the same time, enrollment in graduate programs at USM has grown 6.8 percent since last fall and 18.8 percent since the fall of 2019. Cash said the university was fortunate in that it was developing more robust online graduate programs around the time the pandemic hit and many people have used the extra time at home to take advantage of them.

“The pandemic hit and I certainly have members of my family who used it as an opportunity in their remote time, or their down time if they weren’t as fully employed, to skill-up or go back to school,” he said. “Over a two-year period we’ve had almost a 19 percent increase in new graduate students. A lot of that is online, but of course we’ve been online so this was very conducive given the type of modality we’re offering during the pandemic.”

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