AUGUSTA — Leaders of Maine’s public colleges and universities called on state government Thursday to help their institutions meet the needs of families, businesses and communities.
The officials, addressing the full Legislature, urged lawmakers to either sustain or increase current funding levels for the next two years, saying they need that assurance to expand facilities, invest in instruction and keep tuition down.
University of Maine System Chancellor James Page said he is grateful that Gov. Paul LePage’s proposed biennial budget provides flat funding. If legislators maintain that, Page said, the system can stretch its tuition freeze to three years.
With tuition and fees reaching 20 percent of median household income, the seven universities are not affordable for the average family, Page said, and 43 states do better than Maine.
Page, who was appointed a year ago, said the system is undertaking a top-to-bottom administrative review and already has identified millions of dollars in savings. University leaders also are developing a policy to link future tuition increases to median household income.
“The strategy here is straightforward,” Page said. “We will adjust our costs to what Maine families can afford, and we link our success to Maine families’ successes.”
Maine Community College System President John Fitzsimmons and Maine Maritime Academy President William Brennan said their institutions are facing record demand and need more support from the state.
Maine’s seven community colleges have seen their collective enrollment grow by 85 percent in a decade, and they have turned away 4,000 students in each of the past two years.
“We have hit the wall,” Fitzsimmons said, adding that the system’s needs are basic, including space, equipment and compensation for employees.
When Maine Maritime Academy was established in 1941 to help train mariners for World War II, the state and federal government covered all costs; now the state contributes one-quarter of the school’s operating budget, Brennan said.
The campus in Castine dates mostly to the 1860s, and the school has not built a new classroom building in 30 years.
All three leaders spoke of their institutions’ roles in closing the gap between the needs of Maine’s employers and the skills of prospective workers.
“We must have an economy that will sustain businesses large and small, attract investment and, most importantly, offer real opportunities for our citizens, especially our young people and their families,” Page said.
Page also said the universities are working to meet students where they are, through increased online education and a new plan to make it easier for students to transfer credits from one campus to another.
“We are now acting as a system, as it was intended to be,” he said.
Susan McMillan can be contacted at 621-5645 or at: