ORONO – A hike in tuition for University of Maine System students would be around 6 percent next year, if state lawmakers give more money to higher education.

Last year, tuition went up an average of 10.1 percent at the seven campuses across Maine. The year before that, tuition went up 10.5 percent, and the year before that, 8.9 percent, according to university officials.

Next year’s tuition increase won’t be known until after the state budget is passed next spring.

Under a two-year budget approved Monday, the Board of Trustees said tuition and fee increases would be about 6 percent if legislators increase revenue by 4.5 percent next year and the year after.

Sen. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, co-chairwoman of the legislative Appropriations Committee, said no one can make any promises, but there’s a strong commitment among legislators to stabilize tuition.

“Things are going to be incredibly tight. But we all recognize the future of the state lies in investing in our people and higher education,” Rotundo said.

Last year, state lawmakers were faced with a deficit and did not increase revenue to the UM System.

The university’s two-year budget plan is a combination of the system’s self-imposed $19.1 million cuts in operating costs, along with the requested increase from state taxpayers. Under the proposal, the university system’s state appropriation would grow from the $186 million to $194.5 million in fiscal 2010, then to $203.2 million the year after.

Meeting in Orono, trustees adopted the budget proposal after hearing a report from Chancellor Richard L. Pattenaude, who said tuition increases are the revenue source of last resort. “We are determined to do whatever we can to keep higher education accessible and affordable for students and their families,” Pattenaude said in a statement.

His budget request of $520.7 million reflects $19.1 million in cost reductions. More money is needed because of higher energy and health care costs. Pattenaude said he understands the state is facing tough financial times.

“The plan we are submitting to the governor represents a partnership between the university system and the state to maintain academic quality and affordability,” he said.

– Bonnie Washuk

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