BANGOR — The University of Maine System’s budget deficits will continue next year, officials acknowledged Monday as the board of trustees unanimously approved a $529 million budget for 2014-15 that includes $11.4 million from emergency reserves and the elimination of about 157 positions.
“It’s not an ideal budget. It’s not the budget we would like to see. It’s a transition budget,” said Norman Fournier, the trustee who chaired the committee that oversaw the process. “We felt that it was the best budget we could put forward” for the year that starts July 1.
Officials said tuition increases and changes to programs at each of the seven campuses will be considered in future budgets.
The 2014-15 budget is the first in which the trustees have approved using money from a budget stabilization fund created in 2010 for the sole purpose of offsetting operating shortfalls at the campuses. The budget allots about $6.9 million from the fund to the University of Southern Maine, $1.3 million to UMaine at Fort Kent, $1 million to UMaine at Presque Isle, $900,000 to the flagship campus in Orono, $800,000 to UMaine at Machias and $500,000 to UMaine at Farmington. None of the funds went to UMaine at Augusta.
The trustees will decide in July whether the emergency funds will be considered loans or grants to the campuses.
Chancellor James Page said after Monday’s meeting that the system still faces financial problems.
For 2014-15, the system faced a deficit of $36 million that officials say was caused by flat state funding, declining enrollment and tuition freezes. Those factors aren’t expected to change significantly next year, when projections indicate the system will face a $46 million budget deficit.
Each campus was asked to make deep cuts this year, and more cuts are expected next year.
“This is the first year of a difficult, multi-year process,” Page said. “In the next year or two, the forecasts are equally serious.”
For 2014-15, UMaine in Orono and USM were asked to spend about 10 percent less than this year. Orono closed a portion of its gap with increased tuition revenue, and wound up cutting about $10 million from its $249 million budget by leaving about 30 positions vacant and laying off about seven non-faculty employees.
USM needed to cut $14 million from its $134 million budget. President Theodora Kalikow proposed eliminating three academic programs and 50 staff and faculty positions to save $7 million, prompting large protests by students and faculty members.
Some cuts remain in flux because Kalikow rescinded the layoffs of a dozen faculty members and is now working with the Faculty Senate to come up with alternative cuts. She will have to return to the trustees in July with details of how the final cuts will be made.
All of the campuses except Presque Isle eliminated positions: Augusta cut 19, Farmington cut 19, Machias cut 6.5, Fort Kent cut four, and the system office cut 22 positions.
Looking ahead, the system anticipates only modest increases in revenue – some campuses, including Orono, expect enrollment increases – so spending cuts and consolidation of staffing and academic programs will dominate next year’s budget process.
Some campuses, such as Augusta and Fort Kent, are already collaborating on academic programming and shared administrative positions. An ongoing effort to unify technology and procurement officers at all campuses into one unit under the system office is expected to save $5 million by 2016. Similar efforts are underway to consolidate facilities and human resources staffs, officials say.
Another cost-saving step is to offer even more online course work, which is less expensive to provide.
The Augusta and Fort Kent campuses are working on a plan to cut Augusta’s nursing program but give students in that part of the state an option to get nursing degrees through the Fort Kent campus, while still taking courses locally. “We’re going to need a lot more of that,” Chancellor Page said.
The system is moving toward a “portfolio” model, with each campus carving out unique offerings and reducing the number of redundant courses and academic programs.
Some critics, including students and faculty members, have challenged that model, saying that many students can’t move to a new campus to pursue a particular degree, and that the system should offer full programs in multiple locations.
Faculty members and students have also said the system should be lobbying for more money from the state, but board Chairman Samuel Collins said the trustees agreed to a “trade-off” with state officials to freeze tuition if state funding remained stable.
Together, tuition and state funding make up 88 percent of the system’s revenue. Employee compensation and benefits make up 68 percent of its expenses.
University officials say they don’t want to raise tuition, but it will likely go up.
“I think we’ll see tuition increase in the future, but not in the 9 and 10 (percent) increases we’ve seen” in recent years, said board Treasurer Rebecca Wyke. “It needs to be much more modest.”
Tuition and mandatory fees, which have been frozen for three years, total $10,700 a year for in-state students at UMaine in Orono and $27,970 for out-of-state students. At USM, tuition and fees total $8,920 for in-state students and $21,280 for out-of-state students.
“We want to make sure it remains affordable,” Collins said. “With average (student) debt of over $29,000, it can be very difficult starting out in the job market.”
Nationwide, college costs have risen by 250 percent in the past three decades, while average family incomes have risen 16 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at: