PRESQUE ISLE – The University of Maine at Presque Isle has defied national enrollment trends and is meeting the needs of more working Mainers and their employers by rapidly expanding affordable, flexible online degree programs.
At a University of Maine System Board of Trustees meeting today in Presque Isle, UMPI President Ray Rice announced that the rural public university’s enrollment had increased 67% over the past five years to 1,509 students, and is up nearly 20% just from last fall.
That growth has been largely driven by UMPI’s YourPace online competency-based degrees, which allow students to advance on their own schedule as they master real-world competencies covered in their courses. Students pay a flat fee per session, regardless of how many courses they choose to take, and there are six sessions throughout the year, allowing them to learn when it works best for their busy lives. They also receive credit for prior learning and work experience, and academic and other support as they progress toward their degree.
“I was unsure of where my career was headed,” said YourPace student Jamie Guerette, of Presque Isle. “While I could see the benefit of a business and marketing degree in the job market, as a mother of two with a demanding job and active roles in the community, I couldn’t see anything I could give up to make in-person classes on a set schedule work for our family. Thanks to YourPace, in three sessions I have completed my degree and have since secured a great new job working for a local nonprofit. The workload of YourPace was intense but it has been incredibly worth it.”
UMPI launched YourPace in 2017 with a single Bachelor of Business Administration degree offering, but has since added 14 new in-demand degrees or concentrations allowing adult learners to earn four-year degrees focused in accounting, criminal justice, project management and information systems, and supply chain management.
In Fall of 2019, distance education made up less than one-third of the credit hours delivered by UMPI. Thanks to the popularity of YourPace programming, three-quarters of credit hours are delivered to students accessing courses away from the Presque Isle campus. Overall, distance education now makes up 37% of all credit hours delivered by UMS this semester, compared to 23% prior to the pandemic.
President Rice projects UMPI could more than double the number of credit hours it delivers over the next five years, potentially making it one of the largest universities in the System in terms of credit hour generation.
“Our new UMS strategic plan prioritizes growing enrollment and the size and skill of the Maine workforce, including by helping adults with some college complete their door-opening degree,” said Chancellor Dannel Malloy. “UMPI’s YourPace proves what is possible when we pioneer innovative models of delivering relevant, high-quality education to learners wherever they are, and in ways that are proven to accelerate their professional and personal success, and our state’s economy.”
In part because of YourPace, the overall number of credit hours being taken by students at Maine’s public universities this fall is above what was budgeted and just 2.3% less than last year actuals, with enrollment higher than projected at UMPI, the University of Maine at Fort Kent, the University of Southern Maine and the University of Maine School of Law offsetting slight declines at other campuses.
“Against the headwinds within higher education, the University of Maine System has met the challenge, increasing online and graduate enrollment and exceeding expectations in overall enrollment,” said UMS Board of Trustees Chair Trish Riley. “There is still more work to do to assure our sustainability and grow for the future but it is important to recognize that the consistent and insistent efforts of our universities to meet the needs of all learners are paying off for Maine.”
Overall headcount across the System was down just 1.1% over last fall to 24,134 students, a smaller decline than in the previous year. A 2.4% decrease in the number of undergraduate students — with an even sharper 9.6% drop in first-time, in-state students — was offset by a 4.4% increase in graduate enrollment.
There are now 4,737 students enrolled in UMS graduate programs, up 22% from five years ago, as employer demand for Mainers with advanced degrees has led the System to expand graduate programming including UMFK’s fully online Master of Science in Nursing launched in 2022.
The System’s focus on adult degree completion and graduate education has led to an increase in enrollment among Mainers 25 and older, who now comprise 40% of the total student body compared to 34% in Fall 2019. The percentage of UMS students who are Black/African American, Hispanic/Latino, Asian or who identify as belonging to more than one racial category is also up when compared to last year and five years ago.
The majority of UMS students are from Maine, while 28.4% are from out-of-state and 3.5% are international. Cumberland, Penobscot, York, Kennebec, Androscoggin and Aroostook counties send the most students to the System. The number of Canadian students enrolled (258) has doubled since the fall prior to the pandemic, and there have also been notable increases over that period in the number of students from Florida (+40%), New York (+30%), California (+26%) and Pennsylvania (+20%).
After years of decline, transfers to UMS from the Maine Community College System are up 9.9% from one year ago to 546 students this fall. Maine’s public universities maintain more than 200 articulation agreements to allow MCCS students to seamlessly transition when their personal aspirations or career goals compel them to complete a bachelor’s or advanced degree.