Students walk across the University of Maine Mall in Orono between classes in this April 2011 file photo. Credit: John Clarke Russ / BDN

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Maine’s public university system plans to avoid a tuition increase related to its response to the coronavirus pandemic, officials said Wednesday.

The University of Maine System began considering its fiscal 2021 budget on Wednesday. The proposal includes a long-planned 2.5 percent tuition increase, but it does not include any additional tuition or fee increases caused by the pandemic, system spokesperson Dan Demeritt said.

The cost of responding to the pandemic at Maine’s public universities will likely be more than $20 million in the coming budget year, Demeritt said. He said the pandemic will “have a big impact on operations and revenues this academic year,” but the system will still be ready for students in the fall.

Funding from the federal CARES Act, the $2 trillion stimulus package Congress passed in March, hasn’t been enough to offset the public universities’ losses from shutting down early and shifting instruction online, refunding students’ room and board fees, and missing out on some revenue without students or sporting events on campus.

Three of the state’s seven universities and its law school are digging into reserves to balance their budgets for the upcoming year, according to budget documents distributed to trustees. But reserves won’t be enough. Four campuses — in Farmington, Fort Kent and Presque Isle as well as the Maine School of Law — are entering the new school year with budgets that aren’t balanced.

And the university system’s budget figures don’t even account for any potential cuts in state funding as Maine state government contends with likely hundreds of millions of dollars in lost sales and income tax revenue from the state’s economic shutdown and the costs of addressing the coronavirus.

While undergraduate tuition for in-state students is slated to rise by 2.5 percent across the system, the proposed tuition hikes for out-of-state students at some campuses are steeper.