ORONO, Maine — The state’s public university system held its tuition flat for six years, but that uncommon streak is expected to end as system trustees weigh their next budget.
Trustees are scheduled to vote on the fiscal year 2018 budget during their next meeting in May in Presque Isle. That budget includes an inflation-based tuition bump ranging from 2.5 percent at the flagship campus in Orono to 5 percent at the University of Maine at Augusta.
“Our six-year tuition freeze helped Maine become a national leader in public higher education affordability ensuring that we keep quality education with the financial reach of Maine families while our savings initiatives have brought all seven campus budgets into balance,” University of Maine System Chancellor James Page said Monday. “We now have plans to make reasonable, strategic investments in student success initiatives and campus facilities to prepare our students and Maine’s workforce for the future.”
The steady tuition rate has been unusual among Maine’s peer institutions in other states, bucking a trend of increasing education costs across the country. Maine, Washington and California were the only states in the nation to see an inflation-adjusted decrease in tuition and fees over the past five years, according to the College Board, which tracks tuition rate changes across the country.
Under the proposed budget, the weighted cost of attending Maine universities would increase by just under 3 percent, to $19,074. The annual in-state tuition rate at UMaine is increasing from $8,370 to $8,580, while three of the system’s smaller campuses in Fort Kent, Machias and Presque Isle will see their annual tuition increase to $6,840. Rates for out-of-state students, which typically are about three times that of Maine students, also will be seeing a bump.
In addition, room and board rates will see increases on some campuses — $116 more per year at UMaine, $146 more at the University of Maine at Farmington and $120 more at the Presque Isle campus.
UMS officials have said they expect tuition to increase based on inflation in coming years.
“I think it is no surprise that the student body does not like to see tuition increase,” Samuel Borer, who serves as UMaine’s student representative to the board of trustees, said.
“The six-year tuition freeze was an unprecedented effort by the [board], and I know that the students have been extremely appreciative of that,” Borer added. “However, this tuition model was never meant to be sustained past a few years. At the end of the day, the University of Maine System is a business that needs to have a healthy budget in order to invest in the educations of its students.”
UMS said the revenue will be pumped into new investments on campuses, many of which have a backlog in maintenance and infrastructure projects, or have seen cuts to programs in recent years.
The tuition freeze almost ended in year five, but after Gov. Paul LePage offered supplemental budget funding to the tune of $7.5 million for the current fiscal year, the system was able to hold off on an inflation-based tuition hike until 2018.
About $4.65 million of that funding helped the university offset revenue it lost by not increasing its tuition in fiscal year 2017. The remainder was earmarked for early college programs, a pre-law undergraduate program and an adult education scholarship.
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