Next year the University of Maine (UMaine) launches a program called Flagship Match. Admitted students who come from Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania will pay no more in tuition and fees than they would pay to attend their flagship state university. There is a provision: they must have a 3.0 (unweighted) GPA or better in high school as well as a super-scored SAT of 1050 or higher or an ACT composite of 22 or higher.
Flagship Match was announced in December presumably to attract more applicants to UMaine, as well as to help them to make admissions decisions. With the exception of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and the University of Pittsburgh, I have visited the flagship state universities in all of these states. The student who would fall in the middle of the admit pool at Penn State, Rutgers-New Brunswick and the University of Connecticut would likely fall in the upper quarter of the admit pool at UMaine. Previously, such applicants would have received much smaller scholarships. They would have likely paid over $20,000 in non-resident tuition and fees. With Flagship Match, Maine became a much better buy.
Is Flagship Match a good idea? Hard to say. But it is an interesting one.
Unlike a merit-based scholarship, Flagship Match is a discount tied to remaining in good academic standing. Students who enter UMaine under this program will always pay the same as they would have paid to attend the flagship state university in their home state. However, they also need to hope that the people who lead their home state university, as well as their state legislatures, do not propose and pass dramatic tuition and fee increases while they remain in college. Between my freshman and senior year at Rutgers, my tuition and fees tripled, though they were far less than students and their families pay today.
Should non-residents who come from the targeted states consider UMaine?
It depends. If the dream school is the flagship university and you do not get in, then another flagship university becomes a viable alternative. Among the states where Flagship Match applies, only Pennsylvania offers in-state students the option of going to satellite campuses of their stronger research universities, Penn State and Pitt, with the option of transferring to the main campus for most majors by the junior year. Temple, which recently became test optional is another viable alternative for those denied admission to Penn State, but still want to attend a larger university. The rest of the states have only one flagship state school.
There is another consideration, regardless of home state: financial need. It’s nice to get a discount, but suppose your student needs more money? New Jersey, as one example, does not allow Tuition Aid Grants to be used to cover tuition and fees at out-of-state schools. Maine is not among the states where Pennsylvania residents may apply small grants towards attending an out-of-state school. If you receive a grant to help defray costs at a state school in your home state, it will be less expensive to stay home.
UMaine has a smaller flagship campus, in terms of undergraduate enrollment, than any other state university system in the country. The university has fewer than 9,000 undergraduates. That might not be much of an attraction for Vermonters who are willing to stay home. The University of Vermont has fewer then 11,000 undergraduates. The same is true for New Hampshire residents who might be willing to stay in state. Their main campus has fewer than 13,000 undergraduates. The freshman retention rates at both schools are better than they are for UMaine. UMaine has retained just under 80 percent of a freshman class in recent years. The University of Vermont and the University of New Hampshire have retained no worse than 85 percent of their freshmen. The University of Vermont and the University of New Hampshire graduate more than 60 percent of their freshmen within four years. For UMaine, this number is around 40 percent.
However, if the decision rests between UMaine and a much larger flagship such as the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Penn State or Rutgers-New Brunswick, things become interesting. Rutgers has more than 30,000 undergraduates. Penn State has closer to 40,000. Suppose the mid-pack freshman at either school has the option of going to a much smaller flagship school for the same price–neither awards much in the way of merit-based aid below the upper ten percent of their admit pool–and possibly be admitted to an Honors College. That might be a deal worth considering, provided that there is an academic as well as a social fit. UMaine, especially through an Honors College, offers a better opportunity to work closely with the faculty, being a smaller school that has fewer graduate programs. Living costs on and off-campus are quite reasonable for a college community that hosts a flagship school. UMaine has a strong “spirit and sports” culture that might not equal Penn State’s, but the Black Bears have produced successful teams in football, hockey and baseball. The Flagship Match for Pennsylvania residents is actually less than Penn State’s charges. Penn State charges Pennsylvania residents around $17,000 for tuition and fees. Pennsylvania residents are assessed around $11,400 under UMaine’s program. The Maine campus is also easy to navigate on foot. No need to ride campus busses as Rutgers students do. I have been to Rutgers enough times to know that the busses scare prospective students away.
I can picture that more New Jersey students will consider UMaine in their college search. New Jersey is one of the states that college-bound students love to leave for college. However, most do not venture as far as Maine for their education. They typically look at schools in Pennsylvania, New York and Maryland, with the University of Delaware being the most popular option. Flagship Match might tempt a few to look further north. I also picture Flagship Match being an attraction for Connecticut, Massachusetts and possibly Pennsylvania residents who cannot get into their flagship schools. UMaine would cost less than Temple as well as Penn State.
The hope is that Flagship Match will help to raise retention and graduation rates at UMaine and keep more brains in Maine after college. It will be interesting to see the results after four or five years, presuming Maine politicians and university trustees continue to support the program.
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