As #stayathome has entered the national vocabulary as a call to action for curbing the spread of COVID-19, students and families nationwide are rethinking their college attendance plans — and their finances.
Quite suddenly, affordability and close-to-home quality have soared to the top of many students’ criteria when it comes to choosing a college, says Jared Cash, vice president of enrollment management and marketing at the University of Southern Maine.
And, says Cash, that may be the story behind an uptick in applications to USM among students looking to begin college in the fall 2020 semester.
“When my enrollment team and I looked at the numbers, we were pleasantly surprised,” says Cash. “The number of out-of-state undergraduate applicants who have confirmed they will attend USM in the fall is up 21 percent over this time last year, and we’re also seeing significant increases in new applications from our local students. Especially at this time, we believe college-going students and their families are looking for high-quality educational opportunities with good financial-aid options that are close to home.”
To better serve the needs of families facing financial uncertainty, Cash says USM has extended its deadline to apply for financial aid to June 30, 2020 — an extra three months for incoming first-year students. And USM is also offering a new Welcome Home Scholarship of up to $2,000 to Maine students attending out-of-state colleges and universities who have decided to transfer to USM to be closer to home during the pandemic.
“If there’s one thing I want college-going students and their families to understand, it’s that financial aid is still available here at USM for fall 2020,” Cash says. “Even though the pandemic has created a lot of uncertainty for families, we strongly believe now is the right time to be enrolled at USM — to gain the knowledge and skills that will make students workforce-ready when the economy bounces back. We’re extending the deadline for incoming new students to apply for aid to June 30, and we’re offering the new Welcome Home Scholarship to better serve Maine students and families.”
Cash says that while it’s hard to predict how the pandemic will impact fall enrollments at colleges and universities, current admissions data are encouraging for USM.
In all of last year, USM received a total of 6,800 applications, with transfers accounting for 1,600. Thus far this year, with four months to go in the fall admissions recruiting cycle, the University has already received 1,100 transfer applications. And the University has awarded $47,000 in Welcome Home Scholarships to 30 transfer applicants who were attending out-of-state schools.
Cash says that USM’s current increase in confirmations and applications follows a trend when families experience an economic downturn.
“Historically, these are the times when regional, highly reputable public universities see strong enrollment, because we provide value and a sense of security. A large population of college-bound students and families have been impacted and are seeking higher-education options that don’t compound their financial uncertainty and still allow for strong career prospects in the years that follow this pandemic. With 20 national and regional accreditations, USM can offer Maine students the excellence and value they seek, close to their families and home.”
— By Marc Glass/USM Office of Public Affairs