Thousands of students this week are returning to college and university campuses across Maine, including Orono, where the University of Maine’s largest freshman class ever takes its place among more than 12,000 students.

UMaine students resume classes today, and school starts Wednesday at Colby and Bates colleges. Classes got under way last Thursday at Bowdoin in Brunswick.

At Orono, UMaine officials said the Class of 2011 totals 2,105 students, about 9 percent more than last fall’s first-year class and the largest in campus history. Total fall-semester enrollment at Orono is expected to be 12,100, reflecting a decade-long pattern of enrollment growth.

Nearly 82 percent of the freshmen at Orono are Maine residents. It is the largest group of Mainers ever in a freshman class at the state’s flagship university at the start of an academic year.

The large freshman class follows two springs in which graduating classes were the largest in the university’s history, with about 2,000 getting their diplomas in 2006 as well as 2007.

Forty-seven 62 countries are represented at UMaine this fall.

At Bates in Lewiston, the academic year begins with a convocation ceremony Wednesday afternoon. About 1,660 students are expected on the Bates campus this fall. Among them are 445 first-year students and 15 transfer students, drawn from a record 4,650 applications.

Members of Colby’s Class of 2011 gathered last Tuesday in front of the Waterville campus’s Miller Library, the same place the students will meet for commencement in four years. The 468-member first-year class was welcomed by President William Adams and other campus officials.

Bowdoin’s Class of 2011 arrived on campus Aug. 21 for pre-orientation activities.

, some on campus and others in outdoor venues for activities such as backpacking, kayaking and rock climbing. Some of the new students volunteered for community programs throughout the state.

Bowdoin’s 206th Convocation ceremony on Wednesday marked the official opening of the school year.

At College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, 110 incoming students begin classes Wednesday.

In an annual rite of passage that follows a convocation, students jump off the college pier to swim to Bar Island and back, watched by college officials and a flotilla of boaters who are ready to assist anyone unable to complete the cold journey. Students return to hot chocolate and a traditional barbecue.

AP-ES-09-03-07 1505EDT

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