SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine — The Maine Community College System Board of Trustees voted unanimously Wednesday to freeze in-state tuition for the 2012-13 school year, marking the eighth tuition freeze for the system in the last 14 years.
“There are a hundred reasons we could increase tuition. But the one reason we can’t is that Maine people can’t afford higher tuition,” system President John Fitzsimmons said Wednesday, noting the slowly rebounding economy and state budget constraints. “We promised we would be the high-quality, low-cost option in higher education, and we will keep that promise.”
The move keeps in-state tuition at $2,580 and continues moving system costs downward compared to national averages over a 14-year span. During the 1998-99 school year, the system’s tuition and fees were second highest in the country. Annual tuition freezes from 1999-2000 to 2004-05, as well as in 2010-11, have moved the system’s tuition and fees down to 23rd in the country.
Out-of-state tuition also remains fixed at $5,160 per year for full-time students.
The trustees met on the Southern Maine Community College campus Wednesday afternoon. The system is made up of seven community colleges and nine off-campus satellite offices.
The Maine Community College System’s current average in-state full-time tuition and fees, at approximately $3,327 per year, are the lowest in New England, but still higher than the national average of $3,122 annually. Community college tuition and fees in New Hampshire are the highest in New England, averaging $6,741 per year, while in Connecticut the costs are second lowest in the region at $3,490 annually.
“Maine has the lowest income in New England,” said MCCS board Chairwoman Kris Doody in a statement Wednesday. “Our vote today recognizes that for college to be accessible to Maine people, it needs to be affordable.”
Demand for entry into Maine’s community colleges has increased in recent years, with the number of students entering the system directly from high school rising by 62 percent over the last 10 years — from 1,251 in 2002 to 2,023 in 2011, according to information provided by the system Wednesday. Overall, the system serves 18,500 students, a jump of 8,000 compared with 10 years ago.
According to information distributed Wednesday by system officials, nearly a quarter of students surveyed said they would leave school if tuition were increased by as little as $5 per credit hour, which would add up to about $150 per year. The system also noted that 82 percent of its students qualify for and receive financial aid, highlighting the need to hold steady costs to students.