Growth in the payroll for the University of Maine System over the past eight years is a classic example of how publicly funded entities can function wholly out of perspective and, in many cases, with total disregard for the reality most citizens live in.
Consider that over the past seven years, according to data recently released by the Maine Heritage Policy Center, the number of employees in the UMaine system making more than $100,000 a year increased from about 400 to more than 1,000.
In net terms, the system added an estimated $600 million to its payroll costs over this period. That’s the equivalent of any Maine household or business increasing its expenses by 150 percent.
From 2004 to 2010 former system President Robert Kennedy saw his total compensation increase from $188,043 to $308,368 — a 63 percent increase.
University officials will argue the burgeoning number of faculty now in the $100,000-plus club is necessary to retain and recruit the talented professors and research scientists needed to keep the university system competitive and attractive.
This same talent pool is responsible for securing millions of dollars in grant funding for the system and, without competitive salaries, this revenue would be lost.
It seems an illogical jump because, fraught with revenue problems and reductions in state funding, the system steadily and dramatically increased tuition rates. If this talented grant-writing staff is hauling in so much needed revenue, why the revenue shortages and why the steady and opulent salary increases?
Tuition for in-state students at the university system over the same period jumped from $157 per credit in 2003 to $267 per credit in 2010 — a 67 percent increase, nearly mirroring the increase in the former president’s compensation.
In 2012, the per-credit cost for Maine students is again expected to jump by 4.5 percent to $279 under the current budget proposal, unveiled in March.
Not surprisingly, as tuition leaped upward, enrollment shot downward, further exacerbating the system’s revenue losses.
By 2016, based on the system’s own projections, the Orono campus alone will have 561 fewer full-time students, according to a report in the student newspaper, the Maine Campus.
The backdrop for all of this is a Maine and national economy still reeling and stumbling through an unsteady and very uncertain recovery.
While the system’s payroll increased by a whopping 150 percent during the years contained in the MHPC study, median family incomes in Maine, according to the latest U.S. Census data, increased only 30 percent. The state’s minimum wage — the wage many students earn — climbed only 20 percent.
Our students should have the very best and brightest professors and other faculty the state can afford. At the same time, the cost of higher education cannot continue to be placed further and further beyond the reach of most of Maine’s working-class families.
It’s time system officials get serious about the financial realities Maine families are facing by fairly balancing the costs borne by students with the compensation paid to university staff.
The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and editorial board.