AUGUSTA — Interim Maine Community College System President Derek Langhauser told lawmakers Monday morning the system will have to find up to $10 million in cuts over the next two years or raise tuition to cover cost increases.

Gov. Paul LePage’s biennial budget proposal, which is under review by the Legislature, flat-funds the community college system while proposing modest increases for Maine Maritime Academy and the University of Maine System.

LePage has said this was the result of community colleges moving too slowly on some of the initiatives he favors. Those include a bridge-year program that would allow high school students to earn college credits before graduation and seamless credit transferability between community colleges and the universities.

LePage forced former Maine Community College System President John Fitzsimmons out of his position earlier this year over these issues, though Fitzsimmons and members of the board of trustees maintain they have been working on the programs for years.

Langhauser said the community college system’s trustees won’t set their budget for another two months but that the question of whether they’ll consider a tuition increase to cover the budget gap is already on the table. The system has held tuition nearly flat for three years — with $2-per-credit-hour increases in 2013 and 2014 — and has the lowest tuition rates of any similar public system in New England.

“A flat-funded budget puts far greater pressure on the board to consider a tuition increase,” Langhauser said. “If we were flat-funded at this point, we would be looking at $10 million in cuts, which in our budget would be very significant.”

Langhauser said the trustees had requested a $2.7 million increase next year and a $5 million increase the following year. He declined to answer questions from lawmakers about what might be cut or how much tuition would have to be increased under LePage’s proposed level of funding. He said the system making smaller cuts — in the $2 million to $3 million range — could conceivably be covered by finding efficiencies and without severe effects on programs.

The system’s budget is about $174 million in the current fiscal year. Student enrollment is 18,160.

“When you start to move into the area of $8 million to $10 million, that’s real money and would have a really significant impact,” Langhauser said.

The University of Maine System also is considering deep cuts that have to be made in the next few years to accommodate costs rising faster than revenues.

Later Monday, Maine Maritime Academy President William Brennan said the college is operating past maximum capacity and is facing flat revenues and increased costs.

LePage has said since he’s been governor that Maine’s overall education system needs to improve but needs to do it without more money.


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