AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage says the University of Maine System trustees are on the right track with their plan to freeze in-state tuition for two years, but they will have to do better to get his support for maintaining state appropriations for the system at the current $176 million a year.
“They [have] got to show me a heck of a lot more than just freezing tuition,” he said in an interview. “They [have] got to show me they are moving in the right direction.”
LePage said the university system needs to do more to attract out-of-state students, who pay a higher rate of tuition, and show the system is improving. But he also had praise for the system’s participation in his recent trade mission to China.
“The University of Maine was part of the trade mission which I thought was a very solid move in the right direction,” he said.
LePage said he would propose a counteroffer to the UMS board of trustees of his support for level funding “and maybe a little bit more” if they would freeze tuition for a longer period of time than the two years proposed.
“I will freeze and maybe increase appropriations if they lock [in] tuition for every freshman class for four years,” he said. “In other words, whatever the tuition is for a freshman, it stays for four consecutive years until he gets his degree.”
At Monday’s trustees meeting, the board voted to freeze tuition at current levels for two years if the state maintains its appropriations at the current level. Ryan Low, director of Governmental and External Affairs for the University of Maine System, said the governor’s proposal is in line with the thinking of the board and Chancellor James Page.
“In listening to what the governor’s comments were, I think they are completely in line with what the chancellor and the trustees are saying,” he said. “The trustees are very concerned about controlling the cost of tuition.”
Low said the trustees froze tuition rates last year, so with the current proposal, tuition would be held at the same rates for three years. He said the freeze also applies to fees, which can be substantial.
“We have not had the chance to come in yet … one on one with the governor to discuss our budget,” he said. “We look forward to talking with the governor about his idea.”
Low is a former state budget officer and finance commissioner under former Gov. John Baldacci and has worked on several two-year state budgets. He said in past discussions the governor has expressed concerns about the administrative costs of the University of Maine System.
“Chancellor Page has undertaken a universitywide review of administrative costs and the structure of the university system,” he said.
Gov. LePage has said in past interviews that the administrative costs in the University of Maine System were too high, and that more emphasis should be placed on programs and faculty that will help Maine’s economy grow. Low said university officials are listening.
Page has set up several review teams to look at the particulars on how all of the campuses operate, and identify ways the campuses can cooperate to reduce administrative costs. In the next few months, those teams are scheduled to report to the chancellor with recommendations that will achieve savings that can be reinvested in the university system.
Low said three team reports are under review covering information technology, human resources and strategic procurement.
“We constantly need to look at the cost of education,” Low said. “That is something that we have been doing. The chancellor and the trustees take that very seriously.”
Tuition rates vary significantly among the campuses. The University of Maine at Augusta has the lowest at $6,510 a year for an in-state student. The highest is the flagship Orono campus of the University of Maine at $8,370 a year for an in-state student. Fees also vary widely, with the University of Maine at Presque Isle the lowest at $700 and the Orono highest at $2,224. Tuition for out-of-state students varies from campus to campus but in general is at least twice that of in-state tuition.