The number of boarding students at Lincoln Academy is down to 37 from 68 last year, while local enrollment continues to rise with one of the largest freshman classes in more than a decade.
The school points to several factors for the decline in boarding enrollment, from the graduation of 30 boarding students in June to global politics and fierce competition among boarding schools.
“The decrease in this year’s boarding enrollment at Lincoln was forecast and expected due to several mitigating factors,” the school said in a statement. “Nationwide the decrease(d) enrollment of students from China in secondary and post-secondary institutions can be largely attributed to a combination of factors including domestic and world politics, economic factors including a strong dollar, a weak pound and euro, and an increase in competition for students as more secondary and post-secondary institutions recruit fewer students.”
The school currently has capacity for 66-78 boarding students in its two dormitories: Hall House and Kiah Bayley Hall. The capacity is down from last year, as the school has converted housing on the first floor of Kiah Bayley Hall into space for its development and admissions office and a sound and video studio.
The 37 boarding students at Lincoln Academy this year come from 15 countries and two states. Despite the overall decline in numbers, the school has “100% retention” of boarding students who did not graduate.
Lincoln has 510 day students this year, 15 more than last year’s 495. This number includes 150 freshmen.
LA Director of Communications and Community Engagement Jenny Mayher, in a phone conversation, said the number of freshmen is about the same as last year’s. Together, those classes represent the two largest freshman classes at LA in over a decade.
“This is one of the larger incoming classes in recent memory, and includes 15 students who registered over the summer that we did not anticipate in tuition projections made last spring,” the school said in a statement.
The school did not provide information about how the drop in boarding enrollment will affect the finances of the residential program or the school as a whole.
In a series of email responses to questions, Mayher said the “subject is multifactorial and we are not prepared to comment at this time.”
The school has not eliminated any positions as a result of the lower numbers, according to Mayher.
The school is charging boarding students more for tuition this year, according to information from Mayher. Full-price boarding tuition is $48,400, up from $47,000 last year, a difference of 2.98%.
Some students qualify for financial aid and do not pay the full amount.
The boarding program also brings benefits beyond revenue.
“The deep friendships that have developed between day students and boarding students, the cross pollination of language, food, and music, the richness of class discussions – these are hard to quantify. In addition, our boarding students bring academic and cultural experiences that enrich an LA education in myriad ways,” Mayher said in an email.
Mayher provided examples of this enrichment, such as international students composing the music for a one-act play, “The Snow Maiden”; the international student-led math team winning the state championship; and a “Melodies from Eurasia” concert that three international students put on for the community last spring.
The school expects more boarding students to arrive before the midpoint of the school year. “Additionally, LA has seen significant interest in … trimester and (five)-day boarding options for domestic students that will bolster the residential program,” according to the school’s statement.
“2018-2019 was a particularly challenging year for enrollment at many schools around the USA, including Lincoln Academy,” LA Director of Admissions Lu-Shien Tan said in the statement. “However, we are fortunate to have strong relationships with referral sources in many countries and continue to partner with them to enroll students from all over the world. We anticipate another round of applicants mid-year as we continue to develop new markets.”
A Sept. 23 article in the Bangor Daily News reports the challenges at high schools throughout Maine, which have become more aggressive in recruitment of international students in recent years because of more visa denials and a general impression of the U.S. as less welcoming.
Many in education, the article reports, refer to this perception as the “Trump effect.”
“Visa denials were the leading reason for the decline in new international student enrollment at colleges and universities, followed by social and political climate in the U.S., according to a 2018 report from the Institute for International Education,” the newspaper reported.
Another factor contributing to the decrease in international enrollment is more competition from other English-speaking countries, like Canada and Australia.
Mayher said visa denials affected at least one or two prospective LA students this year.
Nonetheless, the school remains optimistic about its ability to attract international students.
Tan, the admissions director, “has a plan involving outreach to new countries that includes social media outreach, travel to new places, and connecting with new educational consultants,” Mayher said in an email.
In addition, the school expects to have a more even balance of class numbers in the future, which will help it avoid a sudden drop-off.
“These are challenging times in the residential student market, but the increase in the day student population, as well (as) developing prospects in domestic and new international markets, leave us optimistic for the future of the LA boarding program and the school as a whole,” the school’s statement concludes.
Lincoln Academy began to recruit international students for the 2011-2012 school year, starting with a host family program before renovating Hall House in 2013 and building a new dormitory, Kiah Bayley Hall, in 2015.
Boarding enrollment peaked in the 2017-2018 school year at 90 students, according to Mayher.
For each local student who comes to Lincoln Academy through a public school district, the school receives the state’s “maximum allowable tuition” and a 6% “insured value factor.” For the 2018-2019 school year, those amounts were $10,886.51 and $653.19, respectively, for a total of $11,539.70.
The Maine Department of Education will set the maximum allowable tuition for the current school year after Dec. 1.
School officials have said this amount does not cover the expense to educate a student, and the school must supplement the amount with fundraising and other revenue – like boarding tuition.
(Corrections: An earlier version of this article online and on the front page of the Oct. 3 print edition incorrectly reported that Lincoln Academy converted housing on the first floor of Kiah Bayley Hall into space for its alternative education program, development and admissions office, and a sound and video studio. The alternative education program is not in Kiah Bayley Hall.
Due to an error in information from the school, an earlier version of this article incorrectly reported the figure for full-price boarding tuition in the 2018-2019 school year and, as a result, the percentage of a tuition increase. Tuition in 2018-2019 was $47,000. The increase this year was 2.98%.
The Lincoln County News regrets the errors.)