BANGOR, Maine — Monday’s meeting of the University of Maine System board of trustees covered a lot of ground, from a 4.3 percent increase in tuition to a $7 million decrease in the budget and an expected 19.5 percent decline in Maine’s age-15-to-24 population over the next nine years.
Six hours after convening their second day of meetings, the 16 board members unanimously approved a $523,033,000 budget for fiscal year 2012 containing the lowest tuition percentage increase in 10 years and the lowest dollar increase ($311 per full-time student) in eight years.
This year’s tuition increase was 4.8 percent. In 2010, it was 5.8 percent and in 2009, it peaked at 10.3 percent after going to 10 percent in 2008. Still, UMaine has the lowest in-state tuition rates (not including mandatory fees) and second-lowest out-of-state tuition of all land-grant universities in New England.
Richard Pattenaude — who announced the coming year will be his last as UMS chancellor, a job he took over in July 2007 — noted how all seven universities and the system office itself have submitted balanced budgets for 2012 despite the loss of $6.4 million in stimulus funds and no budgeted increase in state appropriation money.
“People are continuing to run very tight budgets, and it’s a very tight funding box with the loss of federal funds, demographics, and the loss of state funds,” said Pattenaude, who plans to return to teaching in the UM system in 2013. “We’ve made a lot of difficult decisions the last two years, and many of those included the elimination of personnel. We have 7 percent fewer people than we did 2½ years ago.”
That’s not the only thing down from the last two years. Projected enrollment for UMS schools in 2012 is 1.8 percent below the 2011 numbers.
“The university system is in a state of transformation from how we did business in the past to how we need to do business to be successful in the future, not just for ourselves but for the state’s graduates,” said Rebecca Wyke, UMS vice chancellor for finance and administration. “That goes from how we manage our internal affairs in terms of keeping an eye on costs, particularly out of recognition that Maine is not a rich state and price tags do matter. The other major piece is our enrollment planning and financial aid strategy.”
A 90-minute presentation by Kevin Crockett and Rosa Redonnett focused on an enrollment planning update and financial aid study by Noel-Levitz. The study asserted that UMS new student enrollments likely will decline between 6 percent and 15 percent over the next decade if trends continue.
In addition, the Maine population of traditional college-age students is projected to decline almost 20 percent over the next 10 years.
“That’s the bad news, but there is an endless population of older adults in this state, and that’s another area we are in a state of transformation to accommodate their educational needs,” Wyke said. “We need to be flexible enough to adapt and offer education in ways we haven’t before.”
As for revamped financial aid strategies, with Maine’s 2010 per capita personal income ranking 29th in the nation at $37,300 and Maine’s ranking of 49th out of 50 states in average total enrollment, the Noel-Levitz study recommends possibly shifting out-of-state merit money to Maine and/or need-based students, identifying and addressing process issues or technical needs preventing students from receiving scholarship or grant offers, and making sure 97 percent of admitted students with financial need receive aid packages for fall 2012 enrollment.
As for the overall UMS budget, Pattenaude and outgoing chairman Lyndel Wishcamper lauded the work of the UMS members, budget committees and department heads for helping create a more accountable financial system.
“When people can’t see numbers, they make them up, so we put as many numbers as we can in front of people,” said Pattenaude. “We’re part of a national recognition that increasingly public budgets should be transparent and there should be clear accountability.
“Trustees have responded and risen to that. They understand they’re representing the taxpayers.”
Other items of particular note approved by trustees Monday include:
- Construction of an $867,000 multifuel biomass heating plant to more efficiently heat the University of Maine at Fort Kent’s Sports Center and its Lodge residential building, primarily funded by a $500,000 stimulus grant.
- A $270,000 increase in funding for a major UMaine Fogler Library ventilation upgrade now under way.
- Improvements to an existing University of Southern Maine soccer field costing $1.16 million and funded primarily by private gifts and a U.S. Soccer Federation Foundation grant.
- Renewal of the lease for the USM Muskie School of Public Service in Augusta.
- Disposition of a 19th century farmhouse used by UMaine’s Center for Cooperative Aquaculture Research in Franklin. The unheated building doesn’t meet current health and safety regulations and first will be offered through public advertisement for sale and intact removal from its current site.
- Elected M. Michelle Hood of Bar Harbor as chairwoman of the board and Samuel Collins of Caribou as vice chairman.