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Maine Community College System

News Release
Community Colleges Celebrate New Name and Mission, with Promise of Two-year Tuition Freeze

Governor Announces $1 Million Gift from Osher Foundation, and State Match to Ease Financial Burden on Students

Tuesday, July 1, 2003
CONTACT: Alice Kirkpatrick
Tel: (207) 767-0116, ext. 3

South Portland and Bangor, ME — Governor John Baldacci helped launch Maine's Community Colleges today with some good news for the first class of community college students. Thanks to a $1 million gift from the Osher Foundation, and a State match, community college tuition will be frozen at its current level — $68 per credit hour or about $2,040 a year — for the next two years. Over 10,000 credit students will benefit from the freeze.

The Governor announced the gift at a morning ribbon-cutting ceremony at Southern Maine Community College in South Portland, and an afternoon event at Eastern Maine Community College in Bangor. The gift includes the University of Maine System and Maine Maritime Academy — which will use the funds for scholarships.

Surrounded by some of the first community college students, donned in their new college t-shirts, the Governor said, "On this historic day, as we inaugurate Maine's community college system, our message to those contemplating college is: we're lowering barriers to higher education."

"By establishing a true community college system, and keeping the cost affordable, we're opening the door of college to thousands of Mainers in this and future generations," the Governor said.

The $1 million State match was part of the biennial budget passed by the Legislature in March. The Legislature agreed to set aside the funds — which were targeted in the Governor's budget for higher education — for a joint proposal to the Osher Foundation. The MCCS and University of Maine System will each receive $950,000 (half from the Foundation, half from the State). Maine Maritime Academy will receive $100,000.

Maine Community College System President John Fitzsimmons said the System will raise another $950,000 over the next five years to create an endowment fund for annual scholarships. The fund is expected to generate about $50,000 a year for the scholarships.

The Bernard Osher Foundation is a San Francisco-based philanthropic organization with a long history of supporting higher education in Maine. Over the past few years, the Foundation has supported the evolution of the Technical Colleges to Community Colleges — giving $3.5 million to fund scholarships for community college students.

"We deeply appreciate the generosity of the Oshers and the support of the Governor and Legislature as we strive to keep college affordable," said Fitzsimmons. "These funds will help us weather the economic downturn, and allow us to keep on track toward our goal of bringing Maine's tuition in line with the national average."

Combined, tuition and fees at Maine's Community Colleges average about $2,600 a year for full-time students. While Maine's rate is low in comparison to four-year colleges, for many low-income residents, coming up with money for college is very difficult. This is particularly true in Maine which ranks 36th in the nation in per capita income.

"At a time when unemployment is up, and more workers are losing their jobs due to foreign competition, many are enrolling in our colleges to prepare for a new career. The last thing they need right now is a hike in tuition," said Fitzsimmons.

The last time the (former) Maine Technical College System raised tuition was in 1998. The two-year freeze will mean six straight years without an increase.

According to the American Association of Schools and Colleges, tuition is going up an average of 12.5 percent nationwide, as states deal with fiscal crises. Arizona, New York, California, Virginia and Oregon are among the states facing the biggest tuition hikes, with increases ranging from 20 to 40 percent.