University of Maine System Chancellor James Page on Thursday urged lawmakers to approve Gov. Janet Mills’ biennial budget, which would provide the university system with a $10 million increase in a fiscal year when it would have to dip into reserves to make up for a significant budget shortfall.
In his State of the University address, Page — who will retire at the end of the school year — did not mention the expected $3.2 million budget shortfall the university system will face next fiscal year — roughly half of which is a gap in funding from the University of Maine at Augusta campus, where mostly adult learners are enrolled.
Staff are recommending that the university pull $1.4 million from its reserves at UMaine Augusta, $494,277 at its Machias campus, and $425,000 at its law school in Portland to make up for the shortfall in its budget.
UMaine’s 2019-20 budget is set at $573 million — up from $552 million — which will be presented Tuesday to the board of trustees. Roughly $198 million, or 41 percent of the system’s budget, would come from state government if Mills’ budget is approved — a $10 million increase in state aid from the previous fiscal year.
The system’s budget includes a 2.5 percent cost-of-living increase in tuition across its seven college campuses, with the exception of the University of Maine School of Law, which will see a 4 percent tuition increase.
In his Thursday address, Page said the state increase “will enable us to keep pace” with the cost-of-living increase estimate, and is “consistent with our pledge not to burden Maine students and taxpayers with an unsustainable expenditure base.”
Though the system will be forced to dip into its reserves, with the help of budget stabilization funds and if Mills’ budget is approved, “there will be no need” to increase students’ tuition or fees to make up for that shortfall, Vice Chancellor of the Finance and Administration Ryan Low said after Page’s address.
He also downplayed the shortfall. Considering UMaine Augusta’s funding gap was roughly double what it is now compared with two years ago, “we’re doing even better than we thought we were going to do,” Low said.
Page echoed this sentiment in his address to lawmakers. He reported that early college enrollment has increased 158 percent in the past five years, student debt is dropping, and the university has maintained nominal increases in the annual operating budget and tuition costs at around 1 percent.
There are financial challenges, Page said, but he’s leaving his post optimistic.
“I began seven years ago with the promise that we would be good stewards working on behalf of Maine taxpayers, that we would expand opportunities, and that we would always put students and state first,” Page said. “We’ve made good progress, and you should be confident that the work we have started will grow stronger and be even more successful in the coming years.”
“We share the deepest commitment to our people and our state,” Page said. “Our success will always be measured by the success of Maine people. It remains that simple.”