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LePage Not Satisfied with UMaine System Tuition Freeze
09/25/2012   Reported By: Mal Leary

This week the University Of Maine System Board of Trustees voted to freeze in-state tuition at current levels for two years, if Gov. Paul LePage and the Legislature continue the state appropriations at the current $176 million level. But as Mal Leary reports, the governor says that isn't good enough to get his support, and he's offering a counter proposal.

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Gov. LePage says the university system needs to improve its efficiency in operations and make other improvements on the seven campuses in order to get his support for continued appropriations at the current levels. He says some of the universities are making progress.

"They got to show me they're moving in the right direction," LePage says. "I mean, they've done very little in recruitment out of state, they've done very little going--although I will say this: University of Maine was part of the trade mission (to China), which I thought that was a very, very solid move in the right direction."

The governor has long had criticism of the university system and its spending priorities. He wants more programs aimed at helping Maine's economy expand, less administrative costs and more money going directly to students. But even with his concerns, he has a counter offer for the university trustees - one he says will help a lot of Maine students afford a college education.

"What I would agree to do is this: I might - I will freeze and maybe increase appropriations if they lock in tuition for every freshman class for four years," he says. "In other words, whatever tuition is for a freshman, it stays that tuition for four consecutive years, until he gets his degree. If they did that then I'm very serious about looking at appropriations and howe how we can make sure that they move forward."

The governor is developing his two-year budget that will go before the new Legislature for its approval when the next session begins in January. But the governor has yet to meet with university officials to discuss their budget proposal.

Ryan Low is director of governmental and external affairs for the university system. He says the governor's proposal fits well with the discussions already underway between the trustees and Chancellor Jim Page.

"Listening to what the governor's comments were, I think they're completely in line with the chancellor and the trustees," Low says. "We are in the middle of a two-year budget exercise, as you know, so that's what we're reacting to. But the trustees are very interested in controlling tuition. As you know, last year was the first year that we froze undergraduate tuition in 25 years."

Low says the governor's proposal may be far reaching but worthy of consideration. Low served as both state budget officer and finance commissioner under Gov. John Baldacci. He admits that it's difficult to project costs and revenues two years ahead, let alone four.

"Practically, it's difficult to be sitting here in 2012 and try to predict what the financial circumstances might be in 2017. Certainly I know from preparing budgets in the past, you can't always predict everything," he says. "But as far as strategies and goals, I think the trustees and the governor are absolutely on the same page."

While the discussion is about freezing current rates, those tuition rates vary significantly between the campuses. The University of Maine at Augusta has the lowest tuition at $6,510 a year. The highest is the flagship Orono campus of the University of Maine. It costs $8,370 a year.


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