Chancellor Dannel Malloy: College can be affordable, so don’t give up on the FAFSA or your future

The following commentary from University of Maine System Chancellor Dannel Malloy appeared in the Bangor Daily News (External Site) on May 29, 2024.

The rocky rollout of the new Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) could be “catastrophic” to the college enrollment of America’s high school Class of 2024, higher education experts recently told Congress.

But with public postsecondary education the engine of upward mobility, the University of Maine System (UMS) won’t let that happen to our state’s students or economy.

When Maine families told us that the new FAFSA’s delays were making it difficult to make informed decisions, we developed our own tool for estimating how much federal, state and university financial assistance they could be eligible for.

Additionally, our institutions with May 1 commitment deadlines moved those to June 1, including the University of Maine (UMaine) and its regional campus in Machias, the University of Southern Maine and the University of Maine at Farmington. A deposit by that date ensures enrollment in preferred programs, courses and campus housing. However, given our commitment to access, the University of Maine at Augusta, the University of Maine at Fort Kent and the University of Maine at Presque Isle have long had rolling admissions, and all UMS universities will welcome students right up to the start of the semester, as will Maine’s public two-year colleges.

We’re encouraged that when compared to this same time last year, more Mainers have applied to our system and confirmed they are coming.

I think the upside of all this attention on the federal financial aid system has been the chance to have conversations with students and their families — as well as policymakers, the press and the public — about how affordable public higher education can be, in part because of the incredible amount of aid accessible through the FAFSA.

Those discussions are especially important to have here in Maine.

A national narrative about high costs and student debt has left too many Mainers believing door-opening postsecondary education is not within their reach, which is simply untrue.

The state’s rate of college-going after high school has been declining and is now at just 54 percent. That’s despite demands from employers for more workers with more degrees and credentials and a statutory attainment goal of 60 percent recently reinforced in a refresh of Maine’s 10-year economic strategy.

According to the Finance Authority of Maine, just half of the high school Class of 2024 has filed the FAFSA so far, down 18 percent from 2023.

Maine families can’t afford to leave that much money, and opportunity, on the table.

More than 19,000 UMS students were awarded assistance they did not need to pay back last year, with the average package of scholarships, grants and waivers totaling $9,006. With the new FAFSA, even more Maine students will be eligible.

While the amount of aid our students receive has gone up nearly 20 percent over the last five years as federal Pell, Maine State Grant and university aid has grown, our price hasn’t. The listed cost of system undergraduate tuition and fees has actually gone down when adjusted for inflation, and is now less than 13 percent of Maine’s annual household income.

UMaine is the most affordable flagship in the region, with its in-state tuition rate this year 40 percent lower than the average of its New England peers. After aid, full-time Maine undergrads paid $10,325 out-of-pocket to be Black Bears, inclusive of their tuition, fees, room and board.

Many of our students do not take out loans, and the debt load of graduates who did is $26,301. That’s less than the price of a pre-owned pickup truck and the value of UMS education actually appreciates, with working age UMaine alumni making more than double the state’s average median per capita income.

Bachelor’s degree holders enjoy more than higher earnings, employment rates and job security. They also live longer and are happier.

If you have been considering college, please don’t give up on the FAFSA or your future. You won’t believe the payoff.

Dannel Malloy has been the chancellor of the University of Maine System since 2019 and trustees just voted to extend his contract through June 30, 2027. Prior to his tenure in Maine, Malloy was a public servant for more than two decades, serving as a prosecutor, mayor and two-term governor of the State of Connecticut.

About the University of Maine System

Established in 1968, the University of Maine System (UMS) unites seven Maine’s distinctive public universities, comprising 10 campuses and numerous centers, in the common purpose of providing quality higher education while delivering on its traditional tripartite mission of teaching, research, and public service.

In 2020 UMS became the first and only statewide enterprise of public higher education in the country to transition to a unified accreditation for the system. Much different than a merger or consolidation, unified accreditation is a new operating model for the University of Maine System that removes the primary barrier to inter-institutional collaboration.

A comprehensive public institution of higher education, UMS serves more than 30,000 students annually and is supported by the efforts of more than 2,000 full-time and part-time faculty, more than 3,000 regular full-time and part-time staff, and a complement of part-time temporary (adjunct) faculty.

Reaching more than 500,000 people annually through educational and cultural offerings, the University of Maine System also benefits from more than two-thirds of its alumni population residing within the state; more than 123,000 individuals.

The System consists of seven main campuses: The University of Maine (UMaine), including its regional campus the University of Maine at Machias (UMaine Machias); the University of Maine at Augusta (UMA); the University of Maine at Farmington (UMF); the University of Maine at Fort Kent (UMFK), the University of Maine at Presque Isle (UMPI); and the University of Southern Maine (USM). The System also includes a UMA campus in Bangor, USM campuses in Gorham and Lewiston-Auburn, the University of Maine School of Law, and the University of Maine Graduate and Professional Center.