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Potential UMaine System tuition hike softened thanks to efforts by the LePage administration

The Legislature’s Education Committee announced Thursday that it had signed off on a supplemental budget proposal for the University of Maine system for the current 2016-2017 academic year. This proposal would halt a possible tuition increase for students and provide funding for other programs.

Under the agreement, Governor LePage agreed to provide an additional $7.6 million to the system. This includes $4.65 million to tuition, $2 million to early college programs for high school students taking college courses and $550,000 to pre-law programs to increase diversity. The agreement was first offered in March of 2016 by LePage, hoping to freeze tuition and earmark funds for early college programs and scholarships. At the time, many states were reducing allocations to their public colleges and universities, forcing tuition increases.

The University of Maine system has had a tuition freeze for the past six years in exchange for stable state funding, compared to an average 13 percent increase in tuition at public universities nationwide over the same period of time. Along the way, the trustees have had to make major cuts to programs and staffing to cut costs. “It’s not Christmas, but it’s a step in the right direction,” Trustee Karl Turner said of the proposal in an interview with the Portland Press Herald.

In the proposal offered in March of 2016, the Board of Trustees had considered raising the tuition. LePage wrote a letter explaining that if they held off at least one year from raising tuition, he would be submitting a request for additional funding to avoid the increase.

“Maine is the only state in the country to reduce the inflation-adjusted cost of a four-year public education over the past five years,” LePage wrote in his letter, “and much of the credit for that accomplishment is due to the system’s five-year tuition freeze.”

In his offer, LePage stressed the importance of continuing UMS pushing towards One University, an effort to reduce overhead, rein in spending, increase cooperation and reduce redundancy across the system. He also encouraged the system to construct a long-term plan for investment in its campus facilities, infrastructure and maintenance projects.

The committee also approved budget changes for the community college system and the state Department of Education. The changes now go to the Appropriations Committee for approval.

Currently, each of the seven campuses in the system charge its own tuition, ranging from $6,600 in Fort Kent to $8,370 in Orono for in-state students.

This coming Fall 2017, there are expected to be three prices for tuition: one at the University of Maine in Orono, a slightly lower tuition for the University of Maine at Farmington and University of Southern Maine — and the least expensive at the remaining four campuses. In addition to tuition, mandatory annual student fees will range from $2,258 at Orono to $700 at Presque Isle.

The Board of Trustees will make their decision regarding tuition increase when they vote on the budget in the spring.

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