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With free tuition for many, community colleges in Maine are seeing a big increase in applications

A brick and granite sign reads "Southern Maine Community College"
Ari Snider
Maine Public
Southern Maine Community College.

Applications to community college are up in Maine as more students take advantage of the state's free enrollment initiative.

As part of the supplemental budget passed earlier this year, the legislature allocated $20 million for the program, which provides two free years of community college to the high school graduating classes of 2020 through 2023.

According to the Maine Community College System, new applications for the fall are up 11% across the state, compared to the same time a year ago.

The increase is even larger on some campuses, such as Eastern Maine Community College in Bangor, where applications are up nearly 47 percent. President Liz Russell said that the free college program has generated a lot of interest among students and parents.

"People wanted to learn more. A lot of grandparents and parents were learning about the opportunity, and they wanted to share it with their student," said Russell. "As a result, we have just seen an influx in the number of inquiries."

Russell said that some programs, such as culinary arts, were struggling to recruit students during the pandemic. But with so much new interest, the college is now looking at increasing capacity in certain areas.

"And this is good news for not only the students, but also the employers who hire our graduates," Russel said.

System officials said about 77 percent of the new students enrolled qualify for the state's free community college program.