ORONO (AP) – Trustees on Monday agreed to the biggest tuition hike in a decade at the seven campuses that comprise the University of Maine System.

Tuition and fees will go up by an average of 7.2 percent next fall, and room and board will increase by 4 percent. The tuition increase is the largest increase since 1994, when a 7.8 percent hike was put into place.

Chancellor Joseph Westphal called it a conservative budget that seeks to maintain the university’s standards while reflecting the reality of growing costs of health care and other expenses.

“The tuition increase is necessary to make sure that students receive a high quality of academic programs and services,” he said. “It’s necessary despite numerous cost-cutting and efficiency measures that we’ve already undertaken.”

Despite the proposed increase, tuition at system’s flagship campus, the University of Maine in Orono, is still less expensive than its counterparts across New England, Westphal said.

To lessen the impact, the new budget increases funds for financial aid by seven percent, or $1.7 million, he said.

In all, the university system will be providing $26.1 million in student financial aid. That amount does not include federally funded student financial aid or private educational loans.

Maine is not alone in raising tuition.

Every land grant university in New England is proposing to raise tuition and fees for the next fiscal year.

The rate hikes approved Monday are part of $421.5 million operating budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. The budget represents a 1 percent increase over the current budget year.

Also Monday, trustees discussed the controversial strategic plan proposed for the university system.

The proposal, which will be revised and submitted to trustees in September, seeks to reduce costs and improve quality through consolidation of administrative services and phaseout of most associate-level degrees.

Board Vice Chairman Wickham Skinner said it is important for the system to move swiftly. “We feel that the approach we have taken is a responsible one, and that the outcome will reflect that,” he said.

AP-ES-05-24-04 1813EDT

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