(The Center Square) — Maine’s sprawling public university system plans to dip into reserves and pandemic relief funds, and implement a hiring freeze to fill a budget gap.
The University of Maine system’s board of trustees voted Monday to approve the cost-cutting measures, which seek to reduce a $5 million project budget shortfall caused by lower-than-expected enrollment, among other things. factors.
UMaine board chair Trish Riley said the shortfall foreshadows the growing financial challenges the public university system expects to face in the coming years.
“But we’re working hard to do everything we can to make sure Maine students have access to quality, affordable public education,” Riley said at Monday’s meeting.
In recent years, Maine has increased state appropriations by 3% for the seven-school university system, which operates on a budget of $616.7 million this fiscal year. UMaine officials have asked lawmakers for a 6% increase in the next fiscal year.
Meanwhile, enrollment has plummeted across the UMaine system, which could push the system to raise tuition and cut costs by eliminating programs and employees.
Overall, enrollment in the university system was down 4.6% from the previous school year, while in-state enrollment fell 5.9%, officials said. UMaine.
As enrollment continues through February, there are currently 10,656 students enrolled in the system, compared to 12,601 students during the same period last year.
Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Robert Placido called declining enrollment in the state a “worrying trend” that will take a collaborative effort to reverse.
“After all, we are public institutions and it is our primary mission to serve the citizens of the state,” he said at Monday’s meeting.
In the 2021-22 school year, 25,170 students were enrolled in the system, compared to 28,653 in the 2015-2016 school year, a decrease of more than 12%, according to state data. .
Directors noted that with federal pandemic relief funds and reserves expected to dry up next year, coupled with rising energy costs, fewer children aged academic and other factors, the UMaine system will face major financial challenges in the future.
“We’re going to have a very tough budget conversation going into 2024,” UMaine administrator Roger Katz said during Monday’s meeting. “It is going to involve difficult discussions to determine how we will have a sustainable financial model in the future.