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December 13, 2018

Report: Maine public colleges lowest in New England for tuition and fees

Courtesy / University of Maine System
Courtesy / University of Maine System
University of Maine at Presque Isle is one of four UMaine System campuses offering free tuition to financially challenged students hoping to pursue full-time study.

Maine's public colleges have New England's lowest average tuition and fee rates, says a report by the New England Board of Higher Education released this week.

The annual "Tuition and Fees Report" takes an in-depth look at the tuition and required fees published by two- and four-year colleges across the region.

In the latest gauge, average in-state tuition and required fees at Maine two-year institutions was reported at $3,520 in 2017-18 compared to the $5,193 regional average, while Maine four-year colleges charged an average of $9,184. That also exceeded the regional average, of $11,596 in tuition and fees.

Average tuition and required fees are published rates for two semesters of in-state full-time study, and the figures do not reflect financial aid or living expenses, which vary widely by student. The study notes that after a six-year tuition freeze at Maine's public colleges, rats went up 2.9% overall in 2017-18.

Looking at the bigger picture, the report notes that in New England and across the country, it has never been more critical to hold a postsecondary education to be able to fully participate in the workforce and earn a sustainable wage — but that earning a college degree is also out of financial reach for too many.

"As post-secondary education becomes increasingly important for the vitality of New England's economy and its workforce, the growing cost of higher education has garnered substantial attention critical attention from the public and from policy makers," writes research and policy analyst Stephanie M. McGrath in the report.

She adds that New England's public colleges continue to be the most affordable and financially accessible option for most individuals in the region — yet many students and parents tend to overestimate out-of-pocket costs.

New England as a whole saw roughly 436,000 students enrolled at public two- and four-year colleges in fall 2016, a 1.8% drop from 2015.

While the share of two- and four-year college enrollment varies widely by state, the majority (55%) of post-secondary students in the region enrolled at public colleges in fall 2016, while 45% enrolled at private four-year institutions in the region.

UMaine System's 'Promise Initiative'

Declines in enrollment and increases in tuition and fees have put pressure on institutions and systems to find creative solutions to make college affordable for students, maintain enrollment and meet the needs of regional employers, according to the report. As an example, it cites a University of Maine System initiative that helped boost enrollment by 2.5% over last year.

Known as the Promise Initiative, it releases first-year Maine students who qualify for a federal Pell Grant to attend UMaine campuses in Presque Isle, Fort Kent, Augusta and Machias from having to pay any out-of-pocket tuition and fees.

"Maine's universities have a nation-leading commitment to controlling tuition costs and are making historic investments in financial aid," Dan Demeritt, director of public affairs for the University of Maine System, told Mainebiz. "More than 1,200 Maine students are attending our universities this fall free of tuition and fee expense because of our waiver programs and innovations like the Promise Initiative, which commits to last dollar scholarships for students with the greatest financial need."

He added that other advancements in affordability include increases in the number of high school students earning low- and no-cost college credit while working towards their high school diploma, adult degree completion scholarships, and the University of Maine at Presque Isle's fully online YourPace program that lets busy adults earn a degree at their own pace for under $10,000.

Read more

UMaine trustees set 'strategic priorities' for next three to five years

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