AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage says the University of Maine trustees are on the right track in freezing in-state tuition for two years, but they will have to do better to get his support for maintaining state appropriations at the current $176 million a year.

“They got to show me a heck of a lot more than just freezing tuition,” he said in an interview. “They got to show me they are moving in the right direction.”

LePage said the university system needs to do more to attract out of state students and show they are improving. But he also had praise for the system’s participation in his recent trade mission to China.

He called the system’s participation “a very solid move in the right direction.”

LePage said he will propose a counter offer to the trustees, offering to support level funding “and maybe a little bit more” if they would freeze tuition for an even longer period of time.

“I will freeze and maybe increase appropriations if they lock tuition for every freshman class for four years,” he said. “In other words, whatever the tuition is for a freshman it stays for four consecutive years until he gets his degree.”

At Monday’s trustees meeting, the board voted to freeze tuition at current levels for two years if the state maintains its appropriations at the current level.

Tuition rates vary significantly between the campuses. The University of Maine at Augusta has the lowest, at $6,510 a year. The highest is the University of Maine’s flagship campus in Orono, at $8,370 a year.

Fees also vary widely, with the University of Maine at Presque Isle the lowest at $700 and Orono the highest at $2,224.

Ryan Low, director of governmental and external affairs for the university system, said the governor’s proposal is in line with the thinking of the board and Chancellor James Page.

“In listening to what he governor’s comments were, I think they are completely in line with what the chancellor and the trustees are saying,” he said. “The trustees are very concerned about controlling the cost of tuition.”

Low said last year the trustees froze tuition rates, so with the current proposal, tuition would be held at the same rates for three years. He said the freeze also applies to fees, which can be substantial.

“We have not had the chance to come in yet with a budget one-on-one with the governor to discuss our budget,” he said. “We look forward to talking with the governor about his idea.”

Low is a former state budget officer and finance commissioner under Gov. John Baldacci and has worked on several two-year state budgets. He said in past discussions the governor has expressed concern about the administrative costs of the university system.

“Chancellor Page has undertaken a university-wide review of administrative costs and the structure of the university system,” he said.

LePage has said in past interviews that he believed the administrative costs at the university system was too high and that more emphasis should be placed on programs and faculty that will help Maine’s economy grow. Low said university officials are listening.

There are several review teams that Page has set up to review how all the campuses operate and how they can cooperate to reduce administrative costs. In the next few months those teams are scheduled to report back with recommendations that will achieve savings that can be reinvested in the university system.

Low said that three team reports are currently under review covering information technology, human resources and strategic procurement.

“We constantly need to look at the cost of education,” Low said. “That is something that we have been doing. The chancellor and the trustees takes that very seriously.”

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