Maine’s university system could get a boost in federal funding | Maine

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(The Center Square) — Maine’s vast public university system could receive up to $116 million in federal funding for workforce development and research projects.

The funding, which was included in Congressional appropriations bills for the next fiscal year, would be distributed system-wide and focus on research and projects the university needs to support the state’s economy. , such as blueberry and forestry.

Other programs likely to get a share of federal funding focus on public health issues such as tick-borne diseases and PFAS chemical pollution of water and soil.

PFAS, an acronym for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are widely used, long-lived chemicals whose components break down very slowly over time. Studies vary on their harmful effects; more is known about their impact on animals than on humans. PFAS, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, “are found in water, air, fish and soil across the country” and around the world.

The UMaine Orono campus has requested $8 million to build a “digital research factory” to study advanced large-scale manufacturing technologies such as artificial intelligence 3D printers and high-performance computing . The university is also seeking $5 million to set up a PFAS monitoring facility to conduct testing for the state.

Chancellor Dannel Malloy said the funding recognizes that the UMaine system is a “vital educational and economic asset” and will help it “better serve the state and the world through cutting-edge education and research that will attract more talents, innovation and investment.”

The funds include $45.6 million that was incorporated into a Senate Appropriations Committee bill and additional federal funding of $63 million requested by the University of Maine through federal agencies. Meanwhile, an additional $7.75 million has been included in a House Appropriations Committee spending plan.

The push for more funding comes as UMaine officials predict they could face multi-million dollar shortfalls in the coming years at the sprawling seven-university system.

At a UMaine system board hearing last month, university administrators and budget writers presented scenarios in which the system could experience budget shortfalls ranging from $8.5 million to more than $38 million. million dollars each year, over the next four years, depending on the amount of federal and state assistance the system receives.

In recent years, the state has increased appropriations by 3% for the university system, which operates with a budget of $616.7 million for 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.

In the 2021-22 school year, 25,170 students were enrolled in the system, down from 28,653 in the 2015-2016 school year, a drop of more than 12%, according to state data. .

Additionally, additional federal funding is not a sure bet, as Republicans and even some Democrats in Congress have criticized the size and scope of the spending plan.

The FY23 federal budget still needs to be presented to the full House and Senate before it lands on President Biden’s desk for consideration.

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