The University of Maine System is seeking a 12 percent increase in state funding to move into growth mode, and says tuition and fees are likely to increase if that funding falls short.

“We are moving from a period of austerity, times when we had to do very hard and difficult work,” Chancellor James Page told trustees on Monday. “It is time to invest. We will make our strong case to the Legislature and, ultimately, to the people of Maine.”

Annual state funding for the seven-campus system has been at about $200 million or below since 2006, just before the recession. For the past five years, the UMaine System had a tuition freeze, compared with an average 13 percent tuition increase at public universities nationwide over the same period.

Now, that freeze is thawing. In addition to seeking a bigger state subsidy, the trustees also approved a new tiered tuition model that will increase tuition at four campuses.

On Monday, the trustees unanimously approved the state funding requests covering three years: 2017 and the 2018-19 two-year budget. If approved, the total state appropriation to the system would increase from $200.6 million in 2016 to $225.1 million in 2019.

Those increases include an extra $7.2 million in the 2017 appropriation, the result of an agreement made with Gov. Paul LePage this spring. The system was considering a tuition increase for the 2016-17 academic year, and the governor offered the funds in exchange for the system freezing tuition and earmarking some of the extra money for early college programs and scholarships. The governor has pledged to request the funds in a supplemental budget in January.


The funding requested in the 2018-19 budget includes increasing general education funding by $14 million, or 5.1 percent. It also includes an additional $2.5 million in debt service to improve aging facilities, and an extra $4.2 million over two years in additional research funds.

“The current operating budget is the same as the 2008 budget. I’m not sure a lot of entities can say that. That said, we can’t work with just freezing that number,” Page said. “So this represents a deliberate approach, to request … cost-of-living increases so we don’t lose ground.”

To close multimillion-dollar budget gaps in recent years, the board of trustees has voted to slash personnel, lay off tenured professors, cut undergraduate and graduate programs, and restructure the system to consolidate support services such as human resources, finance and information technology. The moves prompted student protests, including the takeover of a trustees meeting in 2014.

This year, system financial chief Ryan Low announced that the system was moving toward a budget surplus in 2021. The 2021 projection relies on certain financial factors going forward, including annual increases in tuition, the state subsidy being tied to the rate of inflation, and enrollment increasing by about 1.5 percent a year.

The trustees, who were meeting at the University of Maine at Fort Kent, also approved a 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 campuses in Fort Kent and Presque Isle.


Under the proposal, there would be three prices: One at the University of Maine, a slightly lower tuition at the University of Maine at Farmington and USM, and the least expensive tuition at the remaining four campuses.

Tuition will default to the highest tuition charged in each group, meaning USM students will pay the higher UMF tuition. That means under current tuition rates, USM tuition will increase $240, from $7,590 a year ($253 per credit hour) to $7,830 a year ($261 per credit hour.)

USM President Glenn Cummings said Monday that USM would phase in the increase over multiple years to minimize the impact on students. Other campuses could phase in the increases as well.

Tuition at the four remaining campuses will be at the Machias level of $6,660 per year, meaning students at Fort Kent, Presque Isle and Augusta will pay about $60 a year more.

The unified budget includes other changes, including charging one price for online-only undergraduate degrees, streamlining various student fees, changing how state aid is allocated to the campuses, and creating a “One University” scholarship for in-state merit aid that could be used at any campus.

The recommendations also include a plan to consider a new $5-per-credit-hour student fee to pay for facility and information technology upgrades.


Currently, mandatory annual student fees range from $2,258 at Orono to $700 at Presque Isle.

Low said the $5-per-credit-hour student fee may not be necessary if the state agrees to its appropriation request.

“However, if the Legislature/governor significantly reduced our request, we may want to move forward with the fee as a way to fund our capital needs,” he said.


CORRECTION: This story was updated at 1:50 p.m. on Sept. 20, 2016, to correct the amount sought from the state in 2019 and the percentage of the increase.


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