The cost of attending the University of Maine System campuses will increase by an average of $466 a year next fall under a tuition and fees increase approved Monday by the system’s board of trustees.
It’s the second increase in two years after a six-year tuition freeze. Several trustees said the long stretch of flat costs is one reason they supported the increase of about 2.9 percent.
“Let’s keep in mind we went six years with no increase,” but it involved deep cuts and deferred maintenance, said Trustee Norman Fournier. “We can cut and cut and cut and continue with no tuition increase, but it’s going to cause severe problems down the road. I think (the increase) is minimal. I realize it’s a hardship on students, but at the same time, we have to maintain the system, maintain our buildings and our infrastructure.”
Trustee Sam Collins said the increase was needed to keep the system competitive, noting that Maine costs less than most of the New England state university systems.
“Now is the time to invest in our infrastructure and our people and our programs so we remain competitive,” Collins said.
One trustee – businessman Shawn Moody – was the lone vote against the budget.
“I think there are other ways to close that gap. … It shouldn’t be students that absorb this increase,” said Moody, who is running for governor for a second time.
For in-state university students, tuition, fees, and room and board would increase to $17,986 a year, compared to the current $17,520, at the flagship campus in Orono. Out-of-state students – who generally pay about three times as much as Mainers for tuition alone – would see an increase of about the same amount, for a total of about $38,000 at the Orono campus.
University officials say the increase will bring in an extra $16.7 million, a 5.6 percent increase in tuition and fee revenue. Approximately 45 percent of the new revenue is earmarked for student financial aid.
The tuition and fee increase was part of an overall $551.6 million system budget approved Monday at the trustees’ meeting at the University of Maine at Fort Kent.
To balance the budget, a total of $4.2 million in campus reserves – $3 million at the University of Maine at Augusta and $700,000 for the University of Maine School of Law – and another $500,000 in a system budget stabilization fund were used, according to Chief Financial Officer Ryan Low. The budget includes 24 new employee positions, including 11.5 new faculty positions.
Also Monday, Low presented new five-year financial projections that reverse earlier estimates of an eventual budget surplus. Last year, Low anticipated a budget surplus of $632,841 in 2022, which would have been the first system budget surplus since 2009.
But lower-than-expected credit hour growth and a flat state subsidy this year contributed to a projected $12.2 million deficit in 2022, and a deficit of $13.8 million in 2023.
The financial model anticipates both tuition and the state appropriation increasing every year by about 2.4 percent, or the consumer price index.
Low said the deficit is unlikely to be that high because the trustees would not let deficits grow year over year without taking action. He also noted that even at $13.4 million, the projected 2023 deficit would be only 2.3 percent of the overall budget. The current $150 million state budget structural gap is 5 percent of the budget, by comparison, he said.
Tuition varies among the campuses. In the fall, tuition will be $8,790 a year at the University of Maine, $8,768 at the University of Maine at Farmington, $8,130 at the University of Southern Maine, and $6,990 a year at the campuses in Augusta, Fort Kent, Machias and Presque Isle.
In-state tuition for graduate programs will increase to $7,902 a year at the University of Maine, to $7,326 a year at USM and to $7,506 a year at Farmington. Tuition at the University of Maine School of Law is unchanged at $22,290 a year.
Fall tuition and fees for four-year public universities in neighboring states have not been finalized, but Maine’s tuition and fees last year were higher than in Connecticut, New Hampshire and Massachusetts, and lower than in Rhode Island and Vermont.
Tuition also will increase $2 per credit hour at the seven campuses of the Maine Community College System after a two-year freeze, officials said. That translates to a total cost of $94 per credit hour, with a full-time in-state student paying $2,820 a year.