AUGUSTA — Good news for the local economy is not so good for the budget at the University of Maine at Augusta.

Based on indications of a modest economic recovery, UMA officials expect more people to choose work over school and for the university’s enrollment to drop by 1 percent next year as a result. With the decision of the University of Maine System board of trustees to freeze in-state tuition this week, a lower enrollment is one of the factors squeezing UMA financially.

UMA started its budget development for 2013-14 with a $2.6 million gap to close, said Vice President for Finance and Administration Ellen Schneiter, and the biggest savings will come from personnel reductions of nearly 15 jobs.

Schneiter said a handful of faculty positions are being reduced through attrition, whether because of retirements or an instructor taking a job elsewhere. One custodian will be laid off at the Bangor campus, but the rest of the cuts are taking place through reductions in employees’ hours.

In all, UMA will gain the equivalent of 2.2 full-time positions — including an architecture professor, Schneiter said, because that’s seen as a strategic investment — and losing 17.03, for a net loss of 14.83 jobs. That’s expected to save the university about $415,000.

Schneiter said she’s hopeful that students won’t notice any impact from the cuts.

Ken Elliott, a psychology professor and president of UMA’s faculty union, said he also hopes that will be the case, but there has been a gradual erosion of resources at the university. He said that there were more than 100 full-time faculty several years ago, but there will be fewer than 90 this fall.

In addition, a new committee is developing criteria for eliminating academic programs, which could lead to further cuts in 2014-15 or later.

“Things are looking difficult in the months ahead,” Elliott said. “I think people are really just sort of holding their breath to see.”

The University of Maine System’s budget assumes that the system will receive the same amount of money from the state next year as it is after the curtailment this year, or $178.7 million. Gov. Paul LePage has made that part of his proposed biennial budget.

UMA’s portion of the state appropriation is $13.9 million. The university is projecting $24 million in revenue from tuition and fees, down about $225,000 because of the expected drop in enrollment.

UMA will continue to charge $217 per credit hour for in-state students, which has been frozen since 2011-12. A full-time undergraduate student would pay $7,448 for a year of tuition and mandatory fees.

Declining enrollment within the system in recent years, and an expected increase of only 0.3 percent for 2013-14, has caused financial difficulty in combination with the decision to freeze tuition two years running. The seven universities in the system will combine for a net loss of about 78 jobs.

Rebecca Wyke, vice chancellor for finance and administration, said the tuition freeze is important for students and is a sign of the administration’s view that leaner times are the new normal.

“Our students and our families have also been feeling the pinch of the recession, and we’ve been able to continue to improve our financial position while also being responsive to what our students needed from us,” she said. “I think the Legislature and the governor have been appreciative of that effort.”

According to data compiled by the University of Maine System from the U.S. Census and the College Board, Maine ranks 38th in the nation in college affordability, measured as average public tuition as a percentage of median household income.

In Maine the ratio for 2012-13 was 19 percent, compared to 16.5 percent for the national average. Although Maine has the lowest average tuition in New England, it falls in the middle of the pack for affordability.

Maine’s public universities aren’t the only ones where tuition will stay the same next year. According to reports from The Associated Press, tuition freezes have been proposed or approved in California, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin. In some cases, state budgets are providing additional money to make up for the revenue that could have been gained from higher tuitions.

In Wisconsin, however, Gov. Scott Walker has proposed a budget that freezes tuition for two years while also reducing the state appropriation for the university system.

The Maine Community College System also set its tuition last week. They raised the cost per credit hour by $2, increasing tuition for a full-time, in-state student by $60, to $2,640.

Maine Maritime Academy’s tuition and fees for 2013-14 will be $11,950, up from $11,525 this year.

Susan McMillan — 621-5645
[email protected]

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