Grants and scholarships cover the cost of tuition and fees for nearly a quarter of the in-state students in Maine’s public universities, the University of Maine System said Tuesday.

The system said that 4,077 Maine students attending the state’s public colleges and universities this spring received enough financial aid to cover tuition and fees. The full cost of attending colleges and universities often includes other expenses, such as room and board and textbooks, but the UMaine report released Tuesday only referenced tuition and fees.

Dan Demeritt, spokesman for UMS, said data on how many students had enough aid to cover costs have not been compiled before, so it was impossible to compare the current numbers to previous years.

In the Maine Community College System, nearly half of the 12,763 students receive grants and scholarships that cover the cost of tuition and fees, said Noel K. Gallagher, spokeswoman for the system. She said 6,291 students get enough aid to cover the costs.

Average tuition and fees at campuses in the community college system amount to $3,700 per year, she said, the lowest in New England.

Demeritt said the UMaine system has focused in recent years on keeping tuition costs down while increasing the amount of money available for student aid. Last year, he said, students at Maine’s public universities received an average of $12,096 in aid, an all-time high. Aid can include student loans, so some students may carry debt on graduation, the university system said.

For the 2019-2020 academic year, the in-state average cost of room and board for a full-time student living on campus is $18,314.

Both that figure and the number of students able to cover all of their education costs with grants and scholarships are points of pride, Demeritt said, but the system isn’t resting on those accomplishments.

“There’s still a lot of work to do,” he said. “We’ve made progress, but we aren’t done.”

Demeritt said the system has increased the amount of aid it offers students by about 40 percent in five years and the proposed budget for next year includes an increase of about $6.6 million in grants and scholarships, hiking the total to more than $93.2 million.

The system has also focused on keeping tuition costs down, Demeritt said, at one point freezing tuition for six years. Over the past five years, the system said, tuition and fees in Maine have risen less than 1 percent, the lowest rate in New England and below the national average of 7 percent for public four-year colleges and universities.

The UMaine system announced nearly two years ago that it was eliminating tuition and fees for students who qualified for federal need-based Pell grants at four campuses. The program was launched in fall 2018 at the University of Maine at Presque Isle, Fort Kent, Augusta and Machias. Tuition and fees at the four campuses was about $7,500 a year at the time the program was launched and Pell grants covered as much as $5,775 of the costs.

Room and board was estimated at about $8,000 and wasn’t covered by the program, but students were expected to be able to join a work-study program or get other aid to help with those costs.

Demeritt said the system is also focusing on other efforts to keep college costs down, including a program that allows some high school students to take college courses for credit before they graduate. In some cases, high school teachers are certified to teach those college-level courses, he said, and in other cases, the courses are offered online at low or no cost to high school students. That helps students earn credits toward graduation and reduce the amount of time they have to spend in college, thus cutting their costs.

Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

[email protected]

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