FILE - ME Kennebec Valley Community College 4-20-2017

A student leaves the campus student center April 20, 2017, at Kennebec Valley Community College in Fairfield, Maine.

Maine’s community colleges have seen enrollment increases for the first time since 2014.

About 17,327 students are now enrolled at Maine’s seven community colleges, according to data from the Maine Community College System (MCCS). That is a 4 percent increase from last fall, when enrollment was 16,662.

The numbers cover both full and part-time students, and include those seeking degrees, those taking classes but not for a degree, as well as high schoolers taking advanced courses.

Among the biggest enrollment gains took place at Southern Maine Community College in South Portland; 6,384 students are enrolled this fall compared to 5,862 in 2018, according to an MCCS news release, which noted the system did not raise tuition this year.

“This growth stands in contrast to declining enrollments at two-year colleges across the country in recent years,” Helen Pelletier, vice president and chief communications and strategic planning officer for the MCCS, told the Bangor Daily News.

The increase is significant in light of Maine’s record low unemployment.

In addition to more degree-seeking students, people who completed short-term job training sessions funded by the MCCS Maine Quality Centers (MQC) program grew by nearly 50 percent, from 897 to 1,602, according to the news release.

“We’re seeing significant growth both in our programs that lead to one-year certificates and two-year degrees and in short-term training,” MCCS President David Daigler stated in the release. “Demand from both employers and individuals looking to gain the skills needed to compete in this new economy is exploding and stretching our ability to respond.”

According to the release, several efforts helped boost enrollment: doubling the number of visits to some high schools, replacing group orientation with individual sessions; reaching prospective students through texting instead of email; adding new high-demand programs including plumbing, HVAC and esports; and giving students new online tools to increase peer-to-peer connections.