News Feature

Originally published in Castine Patriot, November 21, 2019
MMA trustees discuss enrollment, new programs

by Monique Labbe

The Maine Maritime Academy Board of Trustees held its quarterly meeting on campus on November 7. Among discussions was an update to the academic strategic plan, which included the introduction of a new environmental sciences degree program for the fall semester. David Gardner gave the educational report, and said that plans are in the works to staff full-time faculty for the new program. Part of that plan is to hire a new chemistry teacher, which would free up some of the faculty in the department to teach more of the environmental science courses.

Gardner also reported that response on the new marine safety and marine contingency response programs has “hit a pause,” on the curriculum, because those programs will require more faculty. In order to do that, according to Gardner, the academy would need to see an increase in the student body, in order to possibly fund those positions through tuition. The goal is not to offset participation in other majors, said Gardner, but to add to the programs being offered.

“We are looking at ways to introduce these programs in a financially stable way,” said Gardner.

Ongoing discussions about restructuring the academy’s annual training cruise have also been happening, according to Gardner, to ensure that students in the junior class engineers receive an adequate amount of training during their second cruise rotation. The proposed change would be to have the freshmen sail half the cruise and juniors sail the entire 74 days, with seniors remaining on cruise in its entirety. This is inverted from the current model, that has freshmen sailing the whole cruise and juniors for half. The change would only be for students in the engineering program, according to Gardner.

Student trustee Mary Shea said she agrees that it is a change that “needs to happen” from an engineering standpoint. Shea noted that her 35 days in the engine room her junior year were not enough, and that it is important for the junior engineers to receive more training.

Another change to the cruise schedule this year is that the ports the ship will stop in will largely be on the east coast of the United States, with the possibility of hitting one port in Europe on a single trip across the Atlantic. The change is the most cost-effective thing to do, and while the goal is not to rule out Europe entirely, the cost benefit to staying stateside is a payoff.

One board member asked if there would be any negative impact from a recruitment standpoint for getting incoming freshmen to attend the academy. President Bill Brennan noted that he has talked to parents about the subject and reminded them that it is a “semester at sea, not a semester abroad.”

Director of Admission and Enrollment Management Kelly Gualtieri reported that application and deposit numbers are up from last year, but that heavy recruitment efforts need to continue in order to keep those numbers steady.

“We can’t sit back and just relax, we need to continue with our initiatives,” she said.

Some of those initiatives have been to host more high school classes and groups for visits to campus, to market the athletic department’s successes and to highlight the awards and achievements of the degree programs and the students who have graduated from them.

Gualtieri, along with Elizabeth True, Vice President for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management, debuted a recruitment video that will be marketed on social media, the academy’s website and in other recruitment avenues.

While enrollment numbers are up, issues were raised about the ability of students to afford the price up front of attending the academy. A report was given that the average indebtedness of Maine Maritime Academy graduates is just over $55,000, compared to the national average of just under $30,000. The default rate for MMA graduates is significantly lower than the national average, however, at just 2.1 percent as opposed to 10 percent. It is critical to talk about the return on investment, according to several board members, as graduates are typically able to pay off their loans within two to three years after graduation.

While the return is worth the investment, it is also difficult for some students to pay that money up front, which, as tuition rises, may be cause for concern in getting potential students to commit to the academy. The academy launched a scholarship campaign during the spring semester last year to raise $20 million in donations from academy alumni. That campaign has reached $18 million in just a few months, but gifts to the academy and donations from its graduates will be essential in making sure students are financially able to attend Maine Maritime, according to several board members.