(The Center Square) – Maine’s sprawling public university system plans to tap into reserves and pandemic relief money, and implement a hiring freeze to close a budget gap.
The University of Maine System Board of Trustees on Monday voted to approve the cost cutting measures, which seek to whittle down a $5 million project budget deficit caused by lower-than-anticipated enrollment—among other factors.
UMaine Board of Trustees Chair Trish Riley said the shortfall foreshadows the increasing financial challenges the public university system expects to grapple with in coming years.
“But we are working hard to do everything we can to make sure students in Maine have access to quality and affordable public education,” Riley said in remarks during Monday’s meeting.
In recent years, Maine has increased state appropriations by 3% for the seven school university system, which is operating on a $616.7 million budget this fiscal year. UMaine officials have asked lawmakers for a 6% increase in the next fiscal year.
Meanwhile, enrollment has been dropping across the UMaine system, which could push the system to raise tuition and cut costs by eliminating programs and employees.
Overall, enrollment in the university system has declined by 4.6% from the previous school year, while in-state enrollment has fallen by 5.9%, UMaine officials said.
While enrollment continues until February, there are currently 10,656 students enrolled in the system, compared to 12,601 students during the same time period last year.
Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Robert Placido called the decline of in-state enrollment “a concerning trend” that will require a collaborative effort to reverse.
“After all, we are public institutions and this is our primary mission to serve the citizens of the state,” he said in remarks during Monday’s meeting.
In the 2021-22 school year, there were 25,170 students enrolled in the system, compared to 28,653 in the 2015-16 school year—a more than 12% decrease, according to state data.
The trustees pointed out that with federal pandemic relief funds and reserves expected to dry up next year, coupled with rising energy costs, a decreasing number of college-aged kids and other factors, the UMaine system will face major financial challenges going forward.
“We’re going to have a very difficult budget conversation looking ahead to 2024,” UMaine trustee Roger Katz said during Monday’s meeting. “It’s going to involve hard discussions to figure out how we will have a sustainable financial model moving forward.”