ORONO, Maine — The University of Maine System Board of Trustees voted Monday to freeze in-state tuition at member institutions for a fourth straight year, provided the system receives expected funding from the state.
The unanimous vote came in spite of the system’s plan to dip into its reserves for about $9 million to cover a projected budget gap in 2016 and fund some one-time expenses.
The tuition freeze continues the system’s commitment to ensure Maine families can afford an education, trustees said during their meeting at the University of Maine.
System spokesman Dan Demeritt said this would be the longest stretch the system has gone without increasing its in-state tuition since it was formed in 1969. UMS has maintained the same tuition for in-state students since 2010, while the average increase nationally at other public institutions is 17 percent over that same time period, according to College Board, a nonprofit higher education advocacy group.
“Despite the financial pressures on the university that result from rising costs and declining enrollments, the board is committed to keeping tuition accessible for our students,” Vice Chancellor for Administration and Finance Rebecca Wyke told the trustees.
System officials hope that affordability will help stem the trend of declining enrollment across the system.
The system estimates it will spend $519 million in fiscal year 2016, down about $10 million from the previous year, according to budget documents.
Gov. Paul LePage’s proposed biennial budget includes a “modest, but very welcome” 1.7 percent, or $3 million, increase in the system’s state appropriation, followed by a 1.9 percent increase the next year, Wyke said.
What hasn’t increased is Mainers’ ability to pay for their education, according to the system. The median household income in Maine for 2011-2013 was just under $50,500, about $2,500 less than what it was at pre-recession levels in 2007.
The weighted average of tuition and fees would eat up about 18 percent of that $50,500 median income, according to Wyke. Trustee Shawn Moody likened that to assuming a mortgage without having a house to show for it.
The tuition freeze and projected system budget are largely contingent on whether LePage’s proposed budget holds up under the legislative process. System Chancellor Jim Page said he was “optimistic” and that the UMS portion of the governor’s budget appears to have strong bipartisan support.
Trustees will vote on the system budget and the accompanying flat tuition proposal during their meeting in May.
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