Published on 2016/08/12
The EvoLLLution | Getting Creative to Drive Out-of-State Enrollments
Sometimes a little creativity is all it takes to buck troubling enrollment and labor market trends.

Public and private institutions across the United States tend to covet out-of-state enrollments, especially when the number of in-state high school graduates begin shrinking. The impact of these shrinking numbers means more than just budget shortfalls at universities. They can predict long-term challenges for the state’s labor force and economy. However, sometimes a little creativity goes a long way. In this interview, Joel Wincowski reflects on the Flagship Match program that aims to drive out-of-state enrollment numbers at the University of Maine’s flagship campus.

The EvoLLLution (Evo): What was the impetus behind creating the Flagship Match program?

Joel Wincowski (JW): The impetus behind creating the Flagship Match program was a desire to attract more out-of-state students to the University of Maine and keep the discount rate down. Flagship Match was created with the intent to attract students away from other universities by offering them a UMaine education for the same cost as their home state flagship university.

The University of Maine is a vibrant and beautiful institution with vast academic offerings. By making a compelling offer of affordability to out-of-state students, we diversify our student body, increase enrollment, and help support the Maine workforce since 22 percent of college graduates go on to stay and work in the state they studied.

Maine is the oldest state in the country and our college-age demographic is shrinking. By attracting young people to Maine to attend the University through Flagship Match, we help mitigate that demographic aging trend.

Another added benefit from launching the Flagship Match program was the high visibility that the University of Maine received in the press. By establishing this program, we created a presence in the media that was not there before, further heightening awareness of our university throughout the country. Moreover, the identification with other flagship schools enhances our image significantly; it puts us in comparison to with schools ranked higher than us.

Evo: What were some of the most significant roadblocks you faced in making this program a reality?

JW: We had tremendous support from the administration for this program after they understood the potential enrollment and discount advantages.

Trying to restructure how financial aid is done on a merit basis rather than a need-based basis poses challenges for a university system. Questions also arose regarding whether this would really yield us our class or will we come in with lower enrollment? How to market the program and create an awareness of the benefit took thoughtful analysis of trends, messaging and outreach.

There were naysayers, of course. But getting the support and buy-in from the campus community through collaborative team building helped counter any doubt. We had support from our provost, Jeff Hecker, and this helped with our internal messaging.

Evo: Since launching, what kinds of results have you been seeing as a result of the program?

JW: Since launching Flagship Match, we have seen an uptick in enrollment figures, applications, campus visits, senior inquiries and transfer students.

Total applications for 2016 were 14,623 compared to 11,552 in 2014. Enrollment saw a 38-percent increase of 399 additional non-resident students for the fall of 2016. We will see a strong increase in tuition generated revenue due to this growth.

Our discount rate has dropped to 22.7 percent for in-state students and 33.6 percent for out-of-state students, down approximately 4 percent.

Our graduate school numbers are growing as well. We also received notice in the press. Notable publications that covered Flagship Match include the Boston Globe, The Chronicle of Higher Education, University Business Magazine, The Hartford Courant and the Washington Post.

Evo: How do you see the Flagship Match program expanding and evolving over time?

JW: We have an aggressive branding and media campaign squarely focused on our current Flagship Match target audience across New England—in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Connecticut—as well as in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

This campaign will remain agile and modern and will evolve to attract our target audience in those states. Moreover, in 2017, we will extend Flagship Match to other states including Rhode Island, Illinois, and California. Accepting students from those states will further diversify our student body, continue to lower our discount rate and help support the Maine workforce.

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Key Takeaways

  • By matching the in-state tuition rates at flagship public institutions in nearby states, the University of Maine has increased demand for its programming from out-of-state learners.
  • As the population of Maine is aging, increasing the number of out-of-state graduates will vastly improve the quality of prospective employees entering Maine’s labor market.