The University of Maine, in a first for a New England flagship campus, will be slashing tuition for students from Massachusetts and other Northeastern states as it tries to combat dwindling revenue and enrollment.
Qualifying students from Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania will pay the same tuition and fees at UMaine in Orono as they would at their home state’s flagship institution. That means some students can cut tuition costs in half.
For example, a Massachusetts student would pay the in-state UMass Amherst price of $14,141 instead of UMaine’s out-of-state rate of $28,880. The savings would be $14,709.
“I haven’t seen any other program like it at any other New England public college or university,’’ said Wendy Lindsay, director of the regional student program at the New England Board of Higher Education. She said there are a few tuition discount programs locally but nothing as inclusive as UMaine’s Flagship Match — at least not yet.
“Some of the other public colleges are thinking of strategies to attract students because of the declining number of high school graduates. They are trying to get students from out of state to supplement numbers. It wouldn’t surprise me to see more of this happening.’’
UMaine is also dropping the price of tuition for qualifying students in other states by $13,200 but the amount may not match the home state’s flagship price.
In recent years, more students have been heading to public universities across state lines, or even a time zone or two away, where the sticker prices are often lower than at private colleges even when they charge out-of-state rates.
The institutions, in turn, benefit from the extra out-of-state dollars. UMass, for example, charges students from outside of Massachusetts $30,504 in tuition and fees, more than twice the in-state rate.
But over the next eight years, the number of high school students in the Northeast is expected to shrink by more than 5 percent, tightening the competition for applicants.
In order to keep enrollments up and money coming in, UMaine must attract more students from out of state, said Jeffrey Hecker, the school’s provost. After two years of gains at UMaine, the number of undergraduates decreased this fall by .4 percent from last year.
“Enrollment in general is something we’re acutely aware of, and we’re working hard,’’ said UMaine’s president, Susan Hunter. “All of this has become much more of a science because everyone is in this situation of competing for students. Every flagship campus is recruiting from their neighboring states.’’
Of 35,752 Massachusetts students who went to four-year institutions after graduating from high school in 2013, about 37 percent attended public colleges in state and 14 percent attended public colleges out of state. The remainder went to private institutions, according to data from the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
The most popular school outside of Massachusetts — public or private — was the University of New Hampshire, which had 761 graduates from the class of 2013 enrolled there 16 months later. UMaine was 11th, with 220 students, but was last among the other New England flagship campuses.
UMaine is getting word out to high schools now about its Flagship Match program and is advertising on billboards along Interstate 93 in Methuen and Interstate 95 in Peabody.
Robert Quist, director of guidance at Salem High School, said he just received a notice about the program and will pass the information along to students. “It sounds interesting and may be something they can take advantage of,’’ he said.
Some Salem students go to UMaine each year but it’s not as popular as UNH, which is closer and has better name recognition locally, he said. “Students tend to apply where they know someone is attending,’’ he noted.
John Crocker, director of guidance for the Methuen public schools, said high out-of-state tuition charges often keep students from looking outside of Massachusetts, limiting their options.
“It’s a great step forward for colleges to realize that placing different costs on students who want to come to their schools is a barrier,’’ he said. “I’m for anything that levels the playing field for students to access a school they want to go to.’’
Officials at the flagships in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Vermont said they do not offer similar programs.
However, a UMass Amherst spokesman said UMaine’s price match does not necessarily mean the overall cost for Massachusetts students would be the same.
“Massachusetts residents may be likely to receive more need-based financial aid from the state and UMass Amherst,’’ spokesman Edward Blaguszewski said in a statement. “Last year, UMass Amherst devoted more than $44 million in institutional funds to need-based financial aid, which resulted in an average award of $11,157 to in-state students.”
Victoria Dutcher, vice president of enrollment at UNH, said the school has a “relatively affordable price point’’ for out-of-state students, and she’s confident they will continue to be drawn there for its overall program. Tuition and fees at UNH are $30,256 for out-of-state students, and $16,986 in state.
UNH officials will monitor how the UMaine program shakes out and whether it pulls New England students away, Dutcher said. “We’re going to keep an eye on it and reflect on it internally,’’ she said.
Meanwhile, the New England Board of Higher Education already coordinates a program among the region’s campuses that makes tuition discounts available when students enroll at an out-of-state public school in an approved major that is not offered by the public institutions in their home state. The average annual tuition savings under the program is $7,000.
But, Lindsay said, “A program like this Flagship Match goes beyond that.’’
In addition to participating in the regional student program, Lindsay said, some New England schools, like Rhode Island College, offer discounted tuition rates to out-of-state students if they live within a certain distance from campus. UMaine campuses at Fort Kent and Presque Isle also offer discounted tuition to all out-of-state students.
UMaine’s awards are divided into two categories. To qualify for a full flagship match at UMaine, students must have both a high school GPA of at least 3.0 and SAT scores of 1050 or higher. Accepted students who do not meet that criteria will qualify for a smaller award of $9,000.
North Andover resident Karissa Keating said she was drawn to UMaine in Orono because of its biking and cross-country ski trails, the quaint town, whose residents come out to all the Division 1 hockey games, and the feeling that she was far away, yet close enough to drive home.
“I instantly fell in love with the campus,’’ said Keating, a senior majoring in communication sciences and disorders and child development and family relations. She hopes to attend graduate school at UMaine next year.
But she knows cost is a factor for many students and thinks the Flagship Match program could help attract those looking for a bargain.
“If I had that, it would be a no-brainer coming here,’’ she said.
Jennifer Fenn Lefferts
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