ORONO, Maine — Class is in session! The University of Maine at Orono welcomed its students back to campus on Monday.
However, this year with a drastic difference in freshmen admissions in comparison to this time last year.
The Class of 2026's freshmen group is 16% smaller than last year's freshmen admissions, tallying just over 1,900 students, according to UMaine Vice President of Enrollment Management Christopher Richards.
In 2021, UMaine welcomed the fourth largest incoming class in the school's history with 2,225 students. However, Richards said the new freshmen on campus this week make up the smallest class in the last decade.
"It's a time of assessment and regrouping and looking towards how we recruit students to the university for the next decade," Richards said.
The campus closed one of its residence halls for student living this semester as a result of the lower number of students needing on-campus housing.
Richards said the bulk of the decline is a result of lower enrollment from two specific states: Maine and Massachusetts. He said it's also been a challenge facing Maine's demographic decline as the state's population remains the oldest in the nation, according to a report from the U.S. Census Bureau.
"We've been in the middle of a massive demographic decline for a while in the state of traditional high school age populations, so we know we need to recruit students out of state," Richards said.
The trend continued a decades-long enrollment decline all seven schools in the University of Maine System are experiencing.
According to the University of Maine System enrollment summaries, 28,653 students were enrolled for the 2015-16 school year, with 25,170 students enrolled for the 2021-22 academic school year.
This is not just a state issue. It's a challenge that colleges across the U.S. are facing. The undergraduate student body in the U.S. is 9.4% smaller prior to the pandemic. Overall, Maine had a 3.6% college enrollment decline from spring 2020 to 2022, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.
Richards said engaging different types of people in Maine could be a start for recruiting in the future.
"Working professionals who maybe want to make a career change, adult learners who have some degree progress but haven't yet completed their degree work and want to go back to school and actually finish that up," Richards said.