In Maine, higher education tuition hikes and reduced quality threaten economic future 

The Maine Center for Economic Policy’s (MECEP) analysis of a report released by the Center for Budget Policy and Priorities (CBPP) reveals that Maine students at four-year public colleges still bear too high a burden for higher education. Since the Great Recession, tuition at Maine’s public colleges and universities have increased by $1,198 or 14.1 percent over the past decade. Maine also ranks 21st in the country for in-state tuition costs. Despite a slight increase in state funding this past year, real per-student spending is still below pre-Recession levels. As a result, Mainers will still find it harder to afford college and will still graduate with large student debt burdens. 

Higher tuition costs deter Maine families from pursuing higher education. Mainers deserve equal access to higher education and Maine’s economy needs highly skilled and highly educated workers. In order for that to happen, Maine needs to fix anemic state funding for education or it puts at risk its economic future.

Over the past ten years, from 2008 to 2017, state funding cuts have forced layoffs, consolidations, and program cuts resulting in reduced quality. Of the 900 jobs lost, 523 staff, 322 faculty and 57 administrators were laid off. Over the years, the legislature’s short funding has force UMaine program cuts including to one of Maine’s high profile graduate schools, the Muskie School of Public Service, and 20 other programs at the University of Southern Maine. Cuts have led to reduced course offerings, increased instructor workloads, and the replacement of experienced professors with part-time adjuncts; reducing the quality of teaching and much-needed research capacity. Not only are Maine students bearing too high a burden and graduating with large student debt loads, but the quality of classroom instruction and academic research are threatened. 

Despite efforts by the trustees of Maine’s University and Community College systems that have held tuition rates down in recent years, students at Maine’s public institutions still graduate with significant levels of debt, according to the US Department of Education’s college scorecard. The median federal debt load for graduates of the University of Maine’s flagship campus is $26,000, significantly higher than the debt burden for graduates of Bowdoin ($20,000), Bates ($16,000), or Colby Colleges ($19,000). Reductions in state funding for public universities and a lack of investment in state aid programs mean that, for many families, public colleges are no longer providing affordable access to education.  

When student loan debt is too high, it forces young people to pursue opportunities elsewhere and prohibits those who stay from buying homes, cars, and fully participating in our economy.

To renew investment in higher education—and prevent further disinvestment—Maine should reject calls for tax cuts and consider fairer options for new revenues. 

Read the full CBPP report here.