A University of Maine graduate waves to the crowd in this file photo. On Monday, university trustees approved a budget that includes a 2.3 percent tuition hike for next year. Credit: Micky Bedell

Students heading to one of Maine’s public universities next fall will see their tuition rise by about 2.3 percent under a budget backed Monday by system trustees, but they also could see extra financial help from their schools.

The University of Maine System Board of Trustees passed a $551 million budget that included inflation-based tuition hike during a meeting at the University of Maine at Fort Kent. The 2019 budget is a roughly $11 million, or 2 percent, increase over the current year’s.

Prior to the vote, some trustees said they were hesitant to increase tuition, but others said the system needed to bring in revenue to invest in campuses.

“I feel like we should hold the line on student costs,” said Shawn Moody, a trustee and Republican gubernatorial candidate. Moody cast the lone dissenting vote against the proposed budget, arguing the system could find cuts to make this year and hope for more state funding in the next budget cycle.

“To continue with no tuition increase is going to cause problems down the road,” said Trustee Norman Fournier. The system’s campuses have lengthy maintenance backlogs, and campus officials have long stressed the need to improve and renovate buildings in hopes of making Maine’s campuses a more attractive option for students.

Maine’s university system bucked national higher education trends by freezing its in-state tuition rate for six consecutive years starting in 2012. That streak ended when the system’s 2018 budget included a 2.5 percent tuition hike, falling in line with inflation.

UMS officials say the budget includes a substantial increase in funding for campus-based student financial aid, which could help mitigate the burden for some students. Under the budget approved Monday by trustees, spending on institutional aid will increase by $7.5 million, up 9.5 percent over the current budget.

The $86.6 million dedicated to student financial aid will be the most the system has ever offered, according to university system spokesman Dan Demeritt. System officials say about half the funding brought in through increased tuition will be used to pay for the financial aid boost.

Nurturing nurses

In other business on Monday, trustees learned more about what UMS campuses have been doing to produce more nursing graduates.

Last year, highly publicized studies sounded the alarm that Maine would be short 3,200 nurses by 2025 unless the state pushed to produce more. Maine’s public universities expect a record-breaking year for nursing applicants, but programs likely won’t have enough room unless money is invested into the programs to help them grow.

Orono received 1,308 applications for its nursing program as of May 1, but only has 110 openings for the fall. The University of Southern Maine, which currently produces the most nursing graduates in the system, received 500 applications.

The Legislature adjourned earlier this month without making decisions on several bond proposals, including a $75 million university workforce development bond that would fund infrastructure improvements. That proposal includes projects that would expand the capacity of nursing programs.

UMFK reported some encouraging data when it surveyed its nursing graduates. Nearly 90 percent of the students who graduated from that program said they intended to find work in Maine, though only 25 percent said they intended to work in Aroostook County. About half the students wanted to work in central Maine.

The looming shortage has even sparked collaboration between the system’s flagship campus and Bangor’s Husson University, which would normally be competing for students in the area. Husson and UMaine are working with Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor to double the clinical placement capacity at the hospital, giving more students a place to get their required hands-on experience.

Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter at @nmccrea213.

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