Amos Bickford and Seve Deery-DeRaps try on their graduation gowns after picking them up in the Central Maine Community College gym in Auburn on Tuesday. The college will graduate its largest class ever Thursday at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston.

LEWISTON — Soon-to-be graduates of Central Maine Community College picked up their caps and gowns Tuesday, two days before commencement.

The Class of 2017 is expected to number 580, the largest ever at the college.

The trend isn’t new.

“For the last 10 years I have been able to stand up during commencement every year and say: ‘This is the largest graduating class of the college,’” President Scott Knapp said.

Fifteen years ago, graduates numbered in the 300s. The school was then called Central Maine Technical College.

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In 2003, state legislators changed Maine’s technical colleges to two-year-degree community colleges, making it possible for students to transfer to four-year schools. Three years later, CMCC’s graduation had outgrown the Auburn campus and was moved to Lewiston’s Androscoggin Bank Colisee.

“The first year was incredible,” Knapp said. “We filled the Colisee. That told us how many people we were turning away” when attendance was limited at the Auburn campus. “Now everyone can come. We haven’t run out of room yet. But we keep having to move the stage back.”

One reason for the growing number is the cost of tuition. All Maine Community College System campuses charge $3,500 a year for full-time students.

“We have one of lowest tuitions in New England,” Knapp said. “If you can’t afford to come to CMCC, you can’t afford college.”

In recent years criminal justice, human services and life sciences programs have been added.

“The new building gave us an organic chemistry lab,” Knapp said. “The life sciences degree is fully transferable to the University of New England.”

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That means students who want to be doctors or dentists can get their first two years of college at CMCC, saving thousands of dollars, he said.

Another reason is the college staff works to make sure “we get our students to commencement,” Knapp said. “It’s not enough to enroll them.”

Many students take five or six years to graduate by going to school part time. Some years, large numbers of enrollees hit their goal. “We’re seeing a little bit of that this year.”

The percentage of graduates who transfer to four-year colleges or universities is 25 percent, Knapp said.

Amos Bickford, 20, is among the first to graduate with a life sciences degree. He’s planning to transfer to the University of New England in Biddeford.

When he graduated from Calvary Christian Academy in Turner, he looked at four-year-degree colleges, including one in Florida.

“Someone I know suggested I look at the brand-new life sciences program at CMCC,” Bickford said. “I went to the open house. Here I am now.”

He lived at home while attending CMCC, which “saved me so much money,” he said. If he lived on campus at UNE, it would have cost nearly $50,000 a year compared to $8,000 for two years at the community college.

In the life sciences program he studied chemistry, biology and math. He plans to work in Maine as a radiologist.


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