Legislative proposal would waive half of University of Maine tuition for in-state students

University of Maine
University of Maine(Connor Magliozzi)
Published: Mar. 6, 2023 at 6:24 PM EST
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AUGUSTA, Maine (WMTW) - A new proposal before the Maine State Legislature could make college a lot less expensive for Maine high school graduates who attend the University of Maine.

The bill would waive half of UMaine tuition up to four years for full-time students who graduate from a Maine high school this year or in 2024 and 2025.

The same waiver would be offered to students looking to finish their degree if they’ve lived in the state for at least five years and have only a year of less of courses left.

The bill received its first public hearing Monday before the Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee.

“Enrollment has been down, and student debt has been up,” the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Mike Tipping, said in an interview. His district includes UMaine’s flagship campus, in Orono.

Tipping said, “If we want to have a state where students can go here and stay here, and if we want teachers and nurses and engineers, we need to invest in our future.”

The savings could be substantial; in-state tuition for UMaine this year is $11,640.

Most out-of-state students pay nearly triple that amount, $33,240, but they would not be eligible for the waiver.

“We’re struggling to financially justify going to a university,” Liam Anderson, 20, a UMaine junior, told the committee.

Anderson said the proposal was only fair given the state is now offering high school graduates “free tuition” to attend a Maine community college, a plan Governor Janet Mills unveiled a year ago.

“These tuition waivers can provide an equitable opportunity, parallel and justifiable to our free community college programs,” Anderson said.

Another witness, USM Assistant Professor of Economics Michael Cauvel, told the committee through written testimony the state investment could help pay for itself, because college grads earn more – and pay more in taxes -- and are less likely to be unemployed.

Cauvel also said only 36% of Maine residents 25-and-older have a bachelor’s degree -- the lowest rate in New England; 40% of New Hampshire residents and 47% of Massachusetts residents do.

The Institute for College Access and Success found the average student loan debt for a 2020 Maine college graduiate was $32,764, and 63% had debt.

“I think anything we can do in Maine to address affordability is a good thing,” Ryan Low, Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration, said in an interview. “It’s a good thing for our bottom line, but it’s a good thing for the state of Maine and the state of Maine’s economy as well.”

The plan, if adopted, should boost enrollment.

The number of UMaine undergrads has shrunk 12% from its 2008 peak of 22,669 to 20,004 today.

The estimated cost of the proposal is roughly $40 million dollars a year, a choice legislators will face as they grapple with the governor’s proposed $10.3 billion biennial budget, which would leave the $902 million Rainy Day Fund untouched.

Tipping said, “We have a billion dollars in the Rainy Day Fund. It’s been raining on students for three decades now. Tuition has been going up, debt has crescendoed here, and we need to finally invest in higher education.”