University of Maine System tuition increase approved

Posted May 18, 2009, at 7:45 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — The University of Maine System board of trustees approved Monday afternoon an average tuition increase of 5.8 percent across the system’s seven campuses.

The increase in the rate for full-time undergraduate students who are Maine residents is the lowest in seven years and a drop from the 10.3 percent increase for the recently completed academic year.

The board also approved on Monday its overall budget for fiscal year 2010, which begins July 1. The budget includes $519.8 million in expenses.

The 5.8 percent increase is the smallest tuition increase since the 2002-03 academic year, when the increase was 4.7 percent. Since then, increases have ranged from a low of 7.6 percent for the 2004-05 academic year to a high of 10.3 percent for the recently completed academic year.

Still, said Rebecca Wyke, the vice chancellor for finance and administration, the trustees are aware the cost of tuition is still prohibitive for some families.

“The board was focused on that,” Wyke said after she presented the budget. “It was last summer that the board met when they said they wanted to see [the tuition increase] no higher than 6 percent. Given that we lost appropriation, we have investment losses, endowment losses and we have some enrollment losses, we were able to keep it at 5.8 [percent]. It’s a small victory. That said, I think we all recognize that we can’t continue to grow tuition by that amount. Everybody is impacted by the recession, our students and their families, so we have to keep that part of the discussion.”

The rise in tuition also is accompanied by a rise in fees, which means costs will go up 6 percent for an estimated $9,626 per year for tuition and fees at the University of Maine’s flagship campus in Orono. Tuition increases vary slightly at each campus to reflect the different nature and mission of each campus.

Out-of-state tuition for a full-time undergraduate student will increase by 6.7 percent to $19,765.

Despite the increases, the University of Maine’s estimated $17,974 for in-state students including tuition, mandatory fees, and room and board is the lowest among the six land-grant institutions in New England. University of Vermont is the highest at $22,552.

Factors driving the budget include a $6.8 million decline in state appropriation compared to fiscal year 2008, a projected 1.8 percent enrollment decrease systemwide, the increase in tuition and fees, and increases in compensation and benefit costs.

“We are facing daunting challenges, not only in terms of knowing what to do, but also trying to figure how to do it,” board of trustees Chairman Lyndel “Joe” Wishcamper said.

Wyke told the trustees the system has a forecasted operating loss of $12.5 million for the current fiscal year because of drops in state appropriation, investment income and forecasted losses at four of the seven campuses. There could be further losses in investment income because of the volatile nature of the financial markets, Wyke added.

Although most of the campuses had slight enrollment decreases in the current fiscal year, the University of Maine at Fort Kent had a much larger drop in enrollment at a projected 17.5 percent below budget. Enrollment decline also caused drops in student residents and bookstore revenues. UMFK is projected to have a $595,000 operating loss for the current fiscal year, and will need additional financial assistance from the system, Wyke reported.

The University of Maine at Machias and University of Maine at Presque Isle are also projected to have operating losses.

UMaine is projected to have a $1.9 million increase. Enrollment was up in Orono compared to estimations by 1.4 percent in the fall and 2.1 percent in the spring.

The trustees also voted in favor of a one-year extension of Chancellor Richard L. Pattenaude’s appointment, which will now continue until July 2011. He remains at an annual salary of $220,000.

After the board meeting, the trustees heard an update from the New Challenges, New Directions task force, which is looking into ways the system can make strategic, institutional changes to counteract an estimated $42 million system-wide shortfall in the next four years. Task force chairman David Flanagan said his group should have its final report and recommendations ready at the end of June.

In other business, trustees re-elected Freeport resident Wishcamper as chair of the board and elected Norman L. Fournier of Wallagrass as the board’s vice chair. Fournier succeeds Barry D. McCrum of Mars Hill, who is scheduled to complete his last year as a trustee at the end of May.

The board of trustees is scheduled to meet again July 13.

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