MONMOUTH – Sarah Knowlton, a guidance counselor at Monmouth Academy, said high school graduates are considering the price of attending college now, more than ever.  

And with price in mind, more students are choosing to attend a two-year college program. 

Knowlton said the Maine Community College System has a program where students can dual enroll and earn credits while taking high school courses. Most students are choosing that option rather than taking an Advanced Placement course, she said.

And students are shying away from their dream schools with a big price tag. 

The biggest thing for me is the change to thinking about the cost and taking advantage of free school,” Knowlton said. “I’ve worked hard to work (out the options) with the kids, and they are shocked what the sticker price is.” 

Knowlton explained that though Monmouth Academy is a small school, with around 47 graduates in the class of 2024, the trends are matching what she is seeing across the state. 

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In the Graduation Spotlight, several of the featured students chose to earn college credits while in high school or start an apprenticeship program. Many chose the University of Maine for its price. Around 4% of students from Monmouth Academy choose to go into the military, most with plans to go to a four-year school after. 

Knowlton said those decisions — to go right into the workforce or make college choices to save money — are becoming more popular.  

“In recent years, they are spending more time considering the fit and looking at the sticker price and where they can get the most bang for their buck,” she said. “It was a shift over time, and I can’t pinpoint when.” 

Data shows that fewer students are attending four-year colleges, and in Maine, more are choosing a two-year college. 

The University of Maine System, in total, has dropped enrollment from 20,644 in-state students in 2019-20 to 16,076 in 2023-24, a 22% drop. 

At the University of Maine, where several of the Graduation Spotlight students plan to attend, in the 2019-20 year, the Orono campus had 6,322 students from Maine. In the 2023-24 year, it’s down to 5,577, an 11% decrease.

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The class of 2021 was the first class to be eligible for the free tuition program through the Maine Community College System. Enrollment in the system went from 16,791 students in 2022 to 19,477 in 2023. There are seven schools across the state that make up the Maine Community College System, and 94% of its students come from Maine.

At Monmouth Academy, 23% of the class of 2021 enrolled in a two-year program. In the class of 2023, however, that number jumped to 51%, according to Knowlton’s data. 

Students who chose community college, Knowlton said, were doing so with different futures in mind. Some plan to go on to a four-year program, others will go to work in the trades, and others are looking for an associate degree. 

“I know it’s a state trend, but we are working on getting kids to make more informed decisions on what’s out there and to think about opportunities like apprenticeships,” said Knowlton.  


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