Additional funds unlikely to blunt fall tuition hikes


AUGUSTA (AP) – An additional $5.8 million that the Legislature is earmarking for higher education will probably not be used to blunt tuition increases slated to take effect next fall.

Officials of the University of Maine System and the Maine Community College System said the new cash would go toward other priorities.

The university system faces tuition and fee hikes averaging 8.7 percent, along with an average increase of 6 percent in room-and-board costs; the community colleges will be seeing a 5.4 percent tuition jump.

Rep. Janet Mills, D-Farmington, who serves on the Appropriations Committee, expressed hope that the two educational systems will reduce their tuition increases now that the state is putting up more money.

“The amount of debt people are leaving college with is outrageous, and we shouldn’t be adding to that by increasing tuition,” she said.

University system spokesman John Diamond said the extra funding will be used to increase financial assistance, help with ongoing contract talks with employees and minimize layoffs or the elimination of vacant jobs.

Students at York County Community College may get a break because the new funding may allow it to trim or drop a special annual fee of roughly $500 per full-time student that is helping to pay off the college’s mortgage, said Alice Kirkpatrick, spokeswoman for the community colleges.

The late-session plan to provide the additional money is expected to sail through the Legislature and be signed into law by Gov. John Baldacci. It would give the university system $4.2 million and increase state funding for the Maine Community College System by $1.6 million. None of the cash is slated to go to Maine Maritime Academy.

Most of the additional money for higher education will come from leftover funds in the state’s homestead-exemption program and a debt-payment account.

Diamond said hikes in tuition and state aid will shrink, but not eliminate, the shortfall with which the university system began the current legislative session.

Revenue raised by the pending tuition hike at the community colleges would leave the system with a $1.2 million shortfall that could trigger layoffs and course cuts, Kirkpatrick said.

She said the trustees may apply most of the additional $1.6 million in state funding to that problem and use the rest to eliminate or reduce mortgage fees that have been imposed on students at York County Community College.