Automotive technology instructor Al White, left, works with Abdikadir Abdulle, center, of Auburn and Cameron Kilton of Augusta during class Thursday at Central Maine Community College in Auburn. Abdulle and Kilton are first-year students. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

AUBURN — Enrollment at Central Maine Community College has rebounded from the pandemic with a record number of students attending classes this fall.

Earlier this week, CMCC announced that 3,372 students are enrolled at the school, up about 150 students from the previous all-time high in 2019. This number represents all students taking credit-earning courses, including about 1,100 high school students participating in concurrent enrollment programs.

While the state’s tuition scholarship for recent graduates boosted CMCC’s numbers, college president Betsy Libby said there’s more to their success.

“Half of our students actually don’t qualify for free college,” Libby said. “They are from graduating years outside of that. So we still did quite a bit of work to recruit and also keep the students we already had.”

Enrollment at Maine’s seven community colleges rose an average of 12% over the last year largely due to the state’s free tuition scholarship program for recent high school graduates. Maine’s Community Colleges

The quality of CMCC’s education facilities, an attractive campus, and faculty and staff who form deep connections with students prompts new students to enroll and previous students to continue their education at CMCC, she said.

But a strong, prolonged marketing campaign advertising the state’s free-tuition scholarship certainly didn’t hurt.


Students eligible for the free two years of tuition are those who graduated high school, or earned a high school diploma equivalent, in 2020 though 2023. They must be enrolled in a full-time degree program.

The free college scholarship covers the cost of tuition and other mandatory fees for two years, but not the cost of books, supplies and room and board.

Not all students eligible for the free-tuition scholarship actually receive it, Libby said. Students are required to utilize funds from the Free Application for Federal Student Aid first.

For some students, federal aid is enough to cover their tuition. The average cost of tuition and mandatory fees at Maine’s community colleges is $3,700 per year.

“We like to think that a lot of students who wouldn’t have gone to college otherwise are going to college, and many of them are just using the funding that they would have been eligible for anyway,” Libby said.

While some may see the program as a government handout, Libby said the program will help grow Maine’s skilled workforce and encourage graduates to stay in Maine. Many students are required to participate in paid workforce placement programs, creating local connections and prompting job offers.


Jacob Crockett, left, of Waterville and Adam Bailey of Brunswick replace the wheel bearings on a pickup truck Thursday at Central Maine Community College in Auburn. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

“It’s a workforce program more than a free college program,” she said.

And with record enrollment and a shortage of affordable housing, 80 CMCC students are currently residing at the Value Inn on Center Street, she said.

Statewide, enrollment at Maine’s seven community colleges is up by an average of 12% from last fall. While Southern Maine Community College and CMCC serve the most students, colleges in northern and eastern Maine saw the greatest growth.

The increase in first-time students is even greater. Twenty-eight percent more students entered the college system in 2022 than 2021.

Of these students, one in five graduated from high school in 2020 or 2021, but have never previously enrolled in college.

“The large number of high school graduates from the Classes of 2020 and 2021 really shows how the Free College Scholarship accomplished what it set out to do — draw in students who paused their education or maybe decided they weren’t going to pursue college in the midst of the pandemic,” President of the Maine Community College System David Daigler said in a prepared statement.

The free-tuition scholarship may have helped close the gender gap in Maine’s community college enrollment, too. Among enrolled students eligible for the free-tuition scholarship, roughly an even portion are men and women. For years predating the pandemic, the student population across the system has been 60% female.

The scholarship has helped reengage men in post-secondary education, the system argues.

In addition to the spike in enrollment and new students, the system has also seen a 17 percent increase in credit hours, meaning more students are taking more classes.

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