Maine has continued to fail our public university students by not adequately funding higher education through state appropriations.

Per full-time student, higher education spending in Maine has fallen since the Great Recession. It declined by 9.7 percent from 2009 to 2013 and is still sitting at around 8 percent less than what it was before 2008, even though many other states across the nation have recovered from the economic crisis and are back to adequately funding higher education.

As student leaders at the University of Southern Maine, we’ve reached a consensus that we must speak out and advocate for additional state appropriations, especially in the face of the University of Maine System board of trustees’ proposed five-year plan, which calls for a yearly USM tuition increase tied to Maine’s Consumer Price Index (currently 2.6 percent).

Such a plan would ultimately negatively impact the entire UMaine System, as we’ve often faced declining enrollment these past few years, and offloading the cost of higher education onto Maine’s working- and middle-class families is not likely to improve those numbers.

The board of trustees will likely ask the newly elected Legislature for an increase in appropriations matching the proposed yearly tuition increase. If the board were truly serving student needs, however, it would ask for an appropriation that would bring the UMaine System in line with pre-2008 funding levels.

If the trustees did that, we likely wouldn’t have to face increasing barriers to higher education access, ballooning student debt, like what we’ve seen throughout the nation, and an anemic admissions rate at many of the campuses in the system.

At the University of Southern Maine, we know the true cost of improperly funding the University of Maine System, as we saw the worst of the systemwide cuts in 2014. Then-USM President David Flanagan told us that “we must change or die,” while the board of trustees oversaw the layoffs of 51 faculty members and the elimination of five academic programs at USM. Arguably, these and many other cuts throughout the system were actually unnecessary, if only the Legislature and governor had had the political will power to see the university system funded at pre-Great Recession levels.

The difference between Maine’s pre-2008 appropriations and current state higher education funding is about $30 million in today’s dollars – on par with what the state is projected to be receiving in marijuana tax revenues over the next year or so. Legislators and public officials need to find the personal strength required to adequately and competently invest in Maine’s future, as there are ample opportunities to do so.

The value of a college education can be measured in dollars earned, employment opportunities created and, of course, how it supplies people with the skills they need to be good citizens in their larger society.

Students have already created a petition titled “Oppose UMS Tuition Hikes, Support Additional State Appropriations” via the popular website change.org. The petition has attracted a little over a hundred signatures, but more importantly, it includes dozens of comments made by students who are concerned about their ability to continue to pay for their ongoing academic careers.

Ultimately, the only way to properly fund higher education in Maine is for a broad, bipartisan coalition to form and advocate for student needs. More than any other issue, higher education funding should be a cogent concern in the minds of all state representatives and senators, irrespective of their political leanings or party allegiance.

The benefits that higher education grants Maine’s communities go beyond those received by individual students. So as student leaders, we would ask that any concerned citizen add their name to that petition in the hope that it might mobilize popular support and pressure those in positions of power to do the right thing.

We’ll do our part by communicating the needs of Maine’s students to the UMaine System board of trustees, the Legislature and the governor. Even students who haven’t yet graduated from high school should feel free to raise their voices with ours, so as to demand that Maine take seriously their futures and invest to ensure prosperity for all.


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