Professors and education advocates on Monday told a legislative committee they support a bill that would provide a tuition break to state residents who enroll in University of Maine System schools over the next three years.

“A four-year degree and academic enrichment should not be available only to those who are financially well off,” said Jim McClymer, a UMaine Orono physics professor and faculty union president. “It should be available to all Mainers.”

The bill, L.D. 512, would provide 50% tuition vouchers to Maine residents who get a high school diploma between 2023 and 2025, live in Maine at the time they enroll in a UMaine school, pursue a degree full time during those years, and maintain at least a 2.0 GPA from their sophomore through senior years.

UMaine System employees and other educators told the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee that the vouchers would encourage more Maine residents to enroll in higher education, bolster the state’s university system and ultimately grow the state’s workforce and economy.

The bill sponsored by Mike Tipping, D-Orono, is being considered during the first year of Gov. Janet Mills’ initiative that provides free Maine community college tuition to students who got a high school diploma during the pandemic.

Maine’s community colleges, which had been struggling to attract students, saw enrollment significantly increase when tuition became free. However, enrollment data and anecdotal information suggest that free community college tuition has pulled students away from Maine’s state universities. Some students say they plan to transfer to the university system after two years of tuition-free classes at a community college.


Supporters of Tipping’s bill hope it will boost enrollment at Maine’s state universities, which has been declining for years, in much the way community college enrollment has increased under the free-tuition program.

Michael Grillo, a medieval art historian at the University of Maine, said although he approves of the state’s financial support of community colleges, it’s not enough.

“Maine needs a well-educated workforce in all fields, whether in jobs for which community colleges prepare their students, or in professions requiring four-year degrees or even graduate studies,” he said. “Looking to support only the community colleges undermines the larger needs of the state in limiting the fields in which students can excel.”

Grillo added that although students can take advantage of free community college before transferring to the university system, that might leave them without necessary prerequisites to finish their bachelor’s degrees in four years.

“The state’s college and university systems should serve as complements to each other, ensuring students can achieve educational goals required for a full range of careers,” said Grillo.

Providing incentives to attend universities would be a positive for both those students and the economy, said Mike Cauvel, a University of Southern Maine economics professor, at Monday’s hearing.

Individuals with higher education degrees are less likely to be unemployed and more likely to earn better pay than those without them. Societies with better-educated workers experience faster economic growth, better health and lower crime rates, he said.

“A central role for the government is to provide services like higher education that benefit our society as a whole but won’t be consumed enough if the cost must be paid for entirely by individuals,” said Cauvel. “Maine needs a skilled workforce to attract and retain businesses, especially the types of businesses that provide high quality jobs with decent pay.”

The Education and Cultural Affairs Committee is already recommending an additional $7 million per year be added to Gov. Janet Mills’ budget over the next two years to support a year of free tuition for UMaine System students.

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