FARMINGTON — Bucking a national trend of increasing college costs, the University of Maine System will keep its in-state tuition flat for a sixth straight year after a vote Monday by the board of trustees.

The system is facing a budget gap, but the trustees voted unanimously to accept an offer from Gov. Paul LePage for an extra $4.65 million in state funding if they would hold off on a potential 2.3 percent tuition increase for the next academic year.

The continued tuition freeze is in sharp contrast to an average 13 percent increase in inflation-adjusted tuition at public four-year schools nationwide over the past five years. Maine is the only state where in-state tuition in the public university system has gone down during that period, by 2 percent when adjusted for inflation, according to the College Board.

“We are so thankful to the governor for making education affordable for Maine students,” board Chairman Sam Collins said after the vote. High tuition and graduating with student debt “is a drag on our economy.”

In-state tuition and fees at the flagship campus in Orono are about $10,606 per year, slightly higher than the national average of $9,410. Tuition at the University of Southern Maine is about $8,000 annually. Historically, Maine has had the lowest in-state tuition among New England states.

The tuition freeze does not automatically apply to out-of-state tuition, which ranges from $10,000 a year at the Fort Kent and Presque Isle campuses to $26,400 at UMaine in Orono. System finance chief Ryan Low said out-of-state tuition at some campuses may increase up to 2.3 percent, depending on the budget process. Any increases would be reflected in the final budget to be voted on in May.


Many public university systems were forced to increase tuition after state legislatures cut higher education appropriations in the wake of the recession. In the past five years, tuition has jumped 52 percent at Louisiana’s state university system and at least 20 percent in 10 other states, according to the College Board.

Maine, however, is among the states that have tried to keep a lid on tuition hikes despite financial pressures.

Last year, the University of California’s president announced a LePage-like deal with California Gov. Jerry Brown, who guaranteed state funding in exchange for a tuition freeze. The deal allowed UC’s in-state undergraduate tuition to remain at $12,192 through 2016-17, achieving a six-year run of frozen tuition, excluding mandatory fees.

The UMaine System trustees were considering raising tuition because of a projected $9.5 million gap in the system’s proposed $521 million budget for 2016-17, despite eliminating 20 positions and using $1.3 million in emergency funds, Low said.

Even after receiving the additional state funding, closing the budget gap will require taking roughly $3 million in emergency funds and about $2.7 million from campus reserves, Low said.

The trustees are scheduled to approve a budget, which will incorporate the additional state funding, at their May meeting.



Low said the system has been able to keep tuition frozen for so long because of “significant efficiencies and savings” – and deep cuts at each of the campuses. But the system’s financial planning is based on an assumption that both the state allocation and tuition revenue will keep pace with inflation, and if they can’t meet that growth, they must consider tuition hikes.

“Sound fiscal management of our universities for the long term will require careful management of expenses and revenue growth that keeps pace with inflation,” Low said. “Adding to our enrollment will be an objective, along with inflation-based adjustments to our state allocation and tuition rates.”

Officials noted that the system has increased student aid while keeping tuition flat. University aid, through tuition discounts and scholarships, has increased 33 percent systemwide, from $56.8 million in 2010 to $75.7 million in 2015.

The total annual cost of room and board, tuition, fees and books at UMaine in Orono is $23,406 for in-state students and $41,676 for out-of-state students. At USM, the costs are $22,620 for in-state students and $34,980 for out-of-staters.

In LePage’s March 4 letter to the trustees, he said he would request an additional $7.2 million for the UMaine System – $4.65 million for the tuition offset, and another $2.5 million for Early College programs for high school students taking college-level courses, pre-law programs for needy students, and scholarships for adult learners.


The $4.65 million would be added to the base funding for the university, and the other money would be one-time allocations, said Aaron Chadbourne, the governor’s education policy adviser.

LePage issued a statement Monday commending the board.

“Today’s vote means that students at the University of Maine schools will have lower student loan payments when they graduate, providing them more opportunity with less debt to build a future in Maine,” he said.

Previously, the governor had increased funding for the system by 3.6 percent, or $14.2 million over the two-year budget, resulting in a state allocation of $183 million for the fiscal year beginning July 1.


The governor’s letter also asked trustees to put together a long-term investment plan to include in a bond package.


System Chancellor James Page said Monday it was too early to come up with even a ballpark figure for the such a bond. He said a proposal would be presented to the trustees at the July meeting.

“We’ve shown that we are responsible fiscal managers,” Page said, referring to the tuition freeze and deep cuts made to balance budgets over the years. “Now we have to talk about investment.”

Major upgrades can run into the tens of millions, and a systemwide, long-term investment plan could carry a hefty price. The system is in the process now, for example, of a multiyear, $40 million project to upgrade information technology. A 2014 bond approved by voters allocated $8 million for a new lab for Cooperative Extension, and in 2013 a $15.5 million bond was approved for science and technology labs at each campus.

But those are piecemeal approaches to bonding major projects. The governor is proposing a more sweeping, long-term approach, officials said.

“The governor believes it is the right time to begin the discussion of the higher good of higher education,” Chadbourne told the trustees Sunday.

Also Monday, trustees approved creation of the Stephen E. King Chair in Literature to support a faculty position in the English Department at the Orono campus. The chair was funded by a $1 million gift from the Harold Alfond Foundation.

Bestselling horror author Stephen King graduated in 1970 from UMaine in Orono with a bachelor’s degree in English. The Kings have made their own donations to UMaine over the years, including a $4 million, four-year grant in 1997 to fund student scholarships. Harold Alfond and the Alfond foundation have given more than $19 million in gifts and pledges to UMaine.

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