Tuition for in-state undergraduates in the University of Maine System will not increase for the next two years, as long as the state doesn’t cut its funding.

The system’s board of trustees voted Monday to extend a tuition freeze that started this year through the 2014-15 academic year.

The board made the decision on the condition that the state provides $176 million a year for education and general operations — its current appropriation — over the next two years.

That funding was cut by $2.3 million last year, according to figures provided by University of Maine System spokeswoman Peggy Markson.

Chancellor James Page will present the funding request to the Legislature in January, Markson said.

System officials said the proposal serves as an incentive for lawmakers not to cut the system’s budget, as a way to help maintain enrollment at the universities, and as a promise from the board to find savings within the system and not balance its budget on the backs of students.

Foremost, Page said, is the system’s responsibility to Maine’s families to “keep a first-class, public education affordable.”

The average tuition for Maine residents in the system’s seven universities is $7,240 a year, ranging from $6,510 at Augusta to $8,370 at Orono.

Tuition for the 2003-04 academic year — the earliest figures provided by Markson — ranged from $3,690 to $4,710.

Before the board voted earlier this year to freeze in-state tuition and fees for the 2012-13 academic year, tuition had been increasing since 1987, according to a news release in January. For the last decade, tuition had increased, on average, about 7 percent a year.

Trustee Norman Fournier, chairman of the board’s finance committee, said the decision to continue the freeze for two more years was “a bold move” by the board, which will have “to find some efficiencies in the system” to deal with potential increases in energy and other costs.

State Sen. Justin Alfond, D-Portland, commended the board “for recognizing how important the price point is to attract and retain students.”

Alfond, who has been a member of the Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee for the past four years, said the proposal “puts the Legislature, and especially Gov. LePage, in a great position to support higher education to create the skilled workers and critical thinkers that we need to power Maine’s economy.

“From my perspective, it’s a great offer,” he said.

Adrienne Bennett, spokeswoman for LePage, did not return a call Monday afternoon seeking comment on the plan.

The board voted on the request for state funding and the tuition freeze at a meeting Monday on the University of Southern Maine’s Portland campus.

The system will also ask the state for $14.7 million for the Maine Economic Improvement Fund, $3.3 million for debt payments and $35,000 for the Casco Bay Estuary Project, according to a news release issued Monday.

Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: lesliebridgers

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