Students attending University of Maine System schools in the fall will pay about $421 more per year following the vote by trustees on Monday to approve the first tuition increase in six years.

The average increase across the system will be 2.5 percent, from $17,065 to $17,486 for in-state tuition, fees, and room and board. The tuition hike alone is 3.3 percent, or $242 per year, to $7,482 a year.

Chancellor James Page has described the increase in tuition – and the state appropriation – as a move away from past austerity during financial hard times to a need today to invest again in the system. The state appropriation is up this year, returning it to pre-recession levels after almost 10 years.

The tuition freeze allowed the system to “keep quality education within the financial reach of Maine families while our savings initiatives have brought all seven campus budgets into balance,” Page said in a statement. “We now have plans to make reasonable, strategic investments in student success initiatives and campus facilities to prepare our students and Maine’s workforce for the future.”

The individual campuses will be allowed to set the tuition rates for out-of-state students, since several campuses are interested in offering financial incentives to increase out-of-state enrollment. Orono, for example, has had success with its flagship match program, where out-of-state students pay an amount equal to that of their home state flagship. Out-of-state students generally pay about three times as much for tuition alone, with a total cost of about $40,000.

The tuition increase is part of a $529 million budget for the fiscal year beginning in July, approved Monday by the trustees at their meeting in Presque Isle.

Chief Financial Officer Ryan Low also presented new five-year financial projections that anticipate a budget surplus of $632,841 in 2022, the first system budget surplus since 2009.

“We’re continuing to move in the right direction,” Low said.

For years, annual budget gaps have been closed with deep cuts and campuses borrowing system funds, or dipping into their own campus reserves. In the budget approved Monday, UMaine Augusta and the University of Southern Maine used campus reserves to balance their budgets.

Several trustees urged caution with the five-year projection, particularly a prediction that enrollment would increase between 1.6 and 1.9 percent a year – for a total of almost 10 percent within five years. Over the last five years, systemwide enrollment has decreased 5 percent.

“I call for a sanity check on this please,” trustee James Erwin said, adding that he wanted to “sound a note of caution.”

“It seems extremely optimistic,” said Erwin. “I think we as a board need to keep a very close eye on this.”

The five-year projection also assumes annual increases to tuition, fees and state appropriation tied to the consumer price index. However, the state allocation in particular is difficult to predict, and annual increases cannot be guaranteed. Low noted that the governor’s current budget allocation is below the CPI and affected this year’s budget.

The trustees can decide to raise tuition and fees annually, but have historically resisted increasing student costs, citing the ability of the average Mainer to afford a public education.

This fall is also the start of the system’s new three-tiered tuition plan, part of the move to a unified budget system.

Currently, each of the seven campuses charges its own tuition, ranging from a high of $8,370 a year at the flagship campus in Orono to a low of $6,600 a year at the campuses in Fort Kent and Presque Isle.

In the fall, tuition will be $8,580 a year at the University of Maine and the University of Maine at Farmington; $7,860 at the University of Southern Maine; and $6,840 a year at the campuses in Augusta, Fort Kent, Machias and Presque Isle.

In-state tuition for graduate programs will increase to $7,722 a year at the University of Maine, $7,074 a year at USM and $7,002 a year at Farmington. Tuition at the University of Maine School of Law is unchanged at $22,290 a year.

In other action Monday, the trustees:

n Bypassed the usual national search process and approved the direct appointment of Raymond Rice as president of UMaine Presque Isle.

Rice has been serving as interim president since July 2016, when then-president Linda Schott left to lead Southern Oregon University. Rice, a professor of English, was a faculty member at UMPI for 19 years and had served as provost and vice president for academic and student affairs. He continues to serve as both president and provost, officials said.

“I recognize this is an extraordinary step. It is one that is unusual,” Page told the trustees. “I think it is fully warranted in light of the solid support (Rice) enjoys on this campus and in the community and with his colleagues throughout the system.”

Rice will have a two-year term beginning in July, and be paid $175,000 a year. As interim president, Rice earned $140,000.

n Unanimously approved Erwin, a former state assistant attorney general, as the new chairman of the board of trustees, and trustee Karl Turner, a retired banking executive and four-term former state senator, as the new vice chairman.

n Voted to extend the appointment of James Page for another year, to 2019, after meeting in executive session. He was hired in 2012.

n Approved capital campaigns for the University of Southern Maine and the University of Maine. USM’s $80 million capital campaign focuses on an overhaul of the Portland campus, including a $50 million, 1,000-seat performing arts center on the Portland campus, $15 million in athletic facility upgrades and a $15 million endowed “promise” scholarship program for full-time students with financial needs.

The $80 million is part of a larger $189 million plan that includes revamping the Portland campus to include a new $30 million student center, a five-story dorm, a boutique hotel and perhaps a food studies culinary institute. The hotel and culinary institute would be operated by students and tied to USM’s food programs and new tourism major. The student center project also would create a new quad on campus, after closing Bedford Street, and a parking garage.

UMaine’s $200 million capital campaign, of which more than $100 million already has been raised, is primarily for financial support of faculty, students and some capital projects including an engineering building.

Noel K. Gallagher can be reached at 791-6387 or at:

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