Community colleges freeze tuition

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AUBURN — Candace Hall, who works two jobs to put herself through college, got good news Wednesday.

Tuition is not going up next year at Central Maine Community College, where Hall is a first-year student.

Tuition will be frozen at all seven of Maine’s community colleges, Maine Community College System President John Fitzsimmons announced Wednesday. Current programs and enrollment will be maintained. The decision by the Board of Trustees is an effort to ensure Mainers can afford college.

“It’s perfect for me,” said Hall, 18, of Andover. “I have to pay for a dorm. Not having to pay more for tuition is excellent.” She’s paying for college by working and taking out loans.

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Student Alyssa Felix, 21, of Warren, R.I., was also delighted. Felix lives in an apartment during the week, and travels home on weekends. “Instead of spending more money on tuition, I can put it towards travel,” she said. Her parents, who help her pay for college, will “be excited” about the freeze, she said.

Besides continued belt-tightening and a growing enrollment, there are two big ways community colleges are able to freeze tuition.

The Maine Legislature restored $1.7 million that was to be cut next year. And like state government workers, there’ll be a second year of a wage freeze for community college employees.

“We are not going to have any pay increases,” CMCC President Scott Knapp said. “The way we’re funded we follow the state’s lead on pay increases.” Next year, like this year, state worker pay is frozen.

“Everybody would rather have a pay increase,” Knapp said. “But the state did not give pay increases and have people out on furlough. We do not. I am grateful we do not have to furlough people,” he said.

Fitzsimmons said he could not say how much the raises would have cost because it is part of collective bargaining. But the savings is significant. Pay raises systemwide in 2009 cost about $1.6 million.

At the same time, more students from record enrollment is putting more stress on faculty, Fitzsimmons said. “I couldn’t be prouder of how hard our employees work. They absolutely deserve to have salary increases. I wish the circumstances were different.”

But, in light of high unemployment and how the economy has suffered, no raises have “become the norm in what’s going on in businesses and nonprofits,” Fitzsimmons said.

The tuition freeze means that like this year, next year a full-time Maine student will pay $2,520 in tuition a year. When including fees, the annual cost is about $3,283.

A tuition freeze is nothing new for community colleges. Out of the last 12 years, there have been tuition freezes in seven years. That’s unheard of in the country, Fitzsimmons said. “The bottom line is price matters. Maine people don’t have the income,” he said. Maine has the lowest per capita income and the lowest college attainment rates in New England, he said. The community colleges serve many adults who have been laid off, and recent high school graduates who lack money for college.

“Having a low-cost option is absolutely critical for the state,” which needs to boost the number of workers with college degrees. In the future there will be tuition increases, Fitzsimmons said. “But those increases will always be modest.”

Tuition comparison, 2009-10

Maine Community College System annual tuition and fees: $3,283

New England community college tuition and fees: $3,992

National community college tuition and fees: $2,544

Source: The College Board, Annual Survey of Colleges

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