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Westphal Expresses Concern About Possible State Budget Cutbacks

FORT KENT - Citing concerns about the stability of the State's current level of funding for the next two budget years, the University of Maine System Board of Trustees adopted a budget that includes a 2.2 percent increase in State support and a 7.8 percent average increase in tuition and fees for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

Meeting Sunday and Monday at the University of Maine at Fort Kent, trustees reviewed a detailed assessment of the current budget and options that might have to be considered if State policymakers move forward with a proposed five percent reduction in previously approved funding for State-supported entities, including higher education. Addressing the possibility, System Chancellor Joseph W. Westphal told trustees that the proposal would reduce the State's $184 million annual appropriation support by $9.2 million in fiscal year 2005-06.

“We are working with legislators to explain the enormous impact of a five percent cut on the cost and quality of higher education,” Westphal explained. “It's important that they fully understand the consequences of such a cut on the university system's ability to keep tuition levels affordable, to maintain high quality programs and services, and to continue our involvement in economic development and outreach.”

Chief Financial Officer Joanne Yestramski noted that it would take an additional nine percent increase in student tuition and fees to cover the $9.2 million loss of State appropriation should the proposed five percent reduction be adopted. Other options that could be considered would include employee layoffs and/or closing of outreach centers.

“Nobody likes any of those possibilities,” Westphal said. “We will do everything we can to minimize the impact.”

Westphal noted that the cost of operating the university system has increased significantly due to rapidly rising employee healthcare insurance costs and record high energy and utility expenses. System leaders have been working to contain those costs through initiatives included in the University System's strategic plan.

The University System budget adopted by trustees on Monday totals $432.1 million, excluding restricted-use funds. Of that total, 40.4 percent represents student tuition and fees. State appropriation accounts for 39.5 percent. The remaining percentage consists of revenues related to room and board and other forms of university-related sales and services.

In addition to budget discussions, trustees heard a presentation of a report by the Chancellor's Committee on College Readiness in Writing, presented by University of Southern Maine Professor Lynne Miller. The report provides recommendations for working with Maine's community colleges and high schools to improve the writing skills of students preparing to enter post-secondary education. The Board also received a detailed progress report on the System's strategic planning initiative, presented by Vice Chancellor Elsa Nunez.

In other business considered during the two-day Board meeting, trustees:

  • approved the creation of a Bachelor of Applied Science degree for the University of Maine at Presque Isle (UMPI).
  • approved creation of a Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies program for the University of Maine at Augusta (UMA).
  • approved the transfer of the former Corea Navy facility in Gouldsboro, Maine, to Acadia Capital Corporation, a not-for-profit business development organization affiliated with Eastern Maine Development Corp. of Bangor. Acadia Capital Corp. will use the property, which was recently conveyed to the University System by the federal government, to develop an industrial park to support the aquaculture industry.
  • gave permission to the University of Maine (UMaine) to proceed with a major renovation of its campus-based dining facilities.
  • formally accepted the donation to UMaine of an inflatable sports dome, which will be used for recreation, wellness, and training purposes.
  • formally approved the recent appointments of Karl E. Burgher as president of UMPI and Richard J. Randall as interim president of UMA.

Established in 1968, the University of Maine System is the state's largest educational entity, with more than 34,300 students enrolled. It features seven universities -- some with multiple campuses -- located across the state, as well as 11 University College outreach centers and more than 100 interactive distance education sites. For more information, log onto