AUGUSTA – Enrollment applications have risen sharply at Maine’s seven community colleges, resulting in pleas for more funding and concerns that waiting lines for popular programs will get longer.
Applications for the fall semester are up 16 percent over a year ago, said Maine Community College System President John Fitzsimmons. The increase comes on top of a 47 percent increase in students in degree programs the past four years; there are 11,078 degree students now enrolled.
The jump in applications shows Mainers are taking advantage of higher education opportunities, Fitzsimmons said. On the other hand, the growth has resulted in waiting lines in popular fields such as health sciences, construction and automotive technology.
“When a Maine person finally crosses the threshold and says ‘I am really open to going to school,’ the saddest moment is to tell that person, ‘Sorry, there is no room,”‘ Fitzsimmons said.
The growth in the community college system will be debated by lawmakers as they consider proposals to increase funding over the next two years.
The Governor’s Community College Advisory Council has recommended a $20.3 million increase in the system’s budget, while Gov. John Baldacci’s budget proposal would increase community college funding by $5.7 million during the next two years.
Rep. Lawrence Bliss, D-South Portland, has filed a bill that would increase the budget by $15 million in two years. That bill, which received thumbs up from the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee, is before the Appropriations and Fiscal Affairs Committee and is expected to be taken up by the full Legislature in the next two weeks.
Enrollment applications are up across the entire community college system.
They’re up 36 percent at Washington County Community College in Calais, 22 percent at Southern Maine Community College in South Portland, and 18 percent at Eastern Maine Community College in Bangor. Applications at the other schools are up between 6 percent and 9 percent.
Fitzsimmons said the increase is partly a result of the low cost of community college. At $78 per credit hour, it is the least expensive college tuition in Maine.
The schools are also attractive because 95 percent of the students are placed in jobs after graduation, with 96 percent of those finding employment in Maine.