The University of Maine System Office of Government & Community Relations builds awareness and appreciation among local, state and federal officials for the important role of our public universities in serving and strengthening Maine’s citizens, communities and economy.

The office works proactively to build relationships with policymakers and their staff, leverage our world-class research and knowledge to inform their work, and be responsive to their requests for information. Central to this is preparing and facilitating our faculty, staff, students and partners to most effectively engage with elected officials and showing legislators university teaching, research and public service in action on our campuses and in our communities.

Consistent with the UMS Board of Trustees’ policy, the office develops and advances the strategic legislative agenda of the University System and its campuses. To do so most effectively, the office coordinates all official engagement by our employees with Maine’s elected officials, though employees may of course always do so as private citizens.

In partnership with the University of Maine’s Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center, the office also delivers the UMS Faculty Fellows Program, an innovative six-month training and networking program designed to prepare an annual cohort of faculty leaders to more effectively engage external constituents on behalf of their work and Maine’s public universities.

Overview of University of Maine System Biennial Budget Request: Maine’s public universities are the state’s largest driver of social mobility, economic recovery, and innovation for the future. In the last decade, the University of Maine System has awarded 56,000 degrees, led by those for nursing and health professions, business, education and engineering. Increasing investments in the UMS is necessary to maintain affordable access to high-quality education and job training, sustain salaries and benefits for UMS employees statewide, reduce student debt, and meet employer demand for talent and innovation.

On March 30, the Legislature enacted a “Back to Basics” majority budget that maintained funding for the UMS in FY22-23 at pre-curtailment FY21 levels. When signing that, Governor Mills committed to submitting a supplemental budget. We are hopeful that future appropriations could reflect the recent bipartisan recommendation from the Education & Cultural Affairs Committee to increase UMS E&G appropriation by 3% in FY22 and FY23. The greatest share of new funding would be directed to the University of Maine School of Law and our smaller regional campuses, as determined by independent comparisons to peer institutions in key expense categories like instruction and student support services that show those universities have been historically most under-funded.

Over the past decade, State appropriation for UMS has grown on average by less than 1% each year and Maine is now among the bottom 15 states for per capita spending on public higher education. Bargained wage and benefit costs for 4,700 UMS faculty and staff have steadily increased during that time and we are entering negotiations now for the next two-year contract period that starts July 1, 2022. Yet our tuition rates have actually gone down when adjusted for inflation and the System has more than doubled the amount made available to our neediest students in the form of financial aid they do not need to pay back – some $95M in FY21.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, UMS has incurred at least $100M in revenue losses or new expenses, offset by approximately $72M in federal aid. Thanks to prudent fiscal management and relatively stable enrollment, the System has so far not passed any of these COVID costs on to our students – nearly half of whom are the first in their families to attend college. The remaining unmet financial impact from the pandemic is equal to the combined annual operating budgets of the Universities of Maine at Fort Kent, Machias, Presque Isle and School of Law.

Other FY22-23 Biennial Budget Considerations: Language Part PPP clarifies that any UMS borrowing for which the debt service is being paid by a committed external party, like the Harold Alfond Foundation or the Maine Legislature, does not count against the System’s statutory debt cap. UMS-issued debt is not backed by the full faith and credit of the State. In 2020, S&P affirmed the System’s AA- rating and stable outlook noting low debt ratios relative to peer public institutions, and strong pandemic response and enrollment outlook. This allows UMS to borrow at highly competitive rates as we leverage all available resources to address $1.3B in needed existing infrastructure investment.

The System’s ability to rapidly respond to local and state needs during the COVID-19 pandemic was possible because of past public funding for university research and development (R&D) through the Maine Economic Improvement Fund (A-489). In FY20, the State’s $17.35M MEIF appropriation was leveraged at a rate of more than 5:1, resulting in 76 patents and direct support to more than 300 large, small and start-up Maine businesses. Despite this impact and recommendations for increased investment in UMS R&D in the state 10-year economic strategy, Economic Recovery Committee report, Maine climate action plan and FOR/Maine forest economy roadmap, MEIF has been flat-funded since FY16. Maine ranks in the bottom five of all U.S. states for total R&D expenditures with just 0.8% of GDP going toward R&D. The New England average is 4.4%.

Overview of Federal Pandemic Relief for the University of Maine System To-Date: Since the start of the COVID-19 global pandemic, Congress has passed three relief packages that have included much-needed direct aid for institutions of higher education and their students. This relief recognizes the importance of America’s colleges and universities to protecting public and economic health, and provides stimulus to students who may be ineligible for other forms of direct taxpayer pandemic relief. These federal emergency funds have been vital to offsetting the estimated $100M in lost revenue and new expenses the University of Maine System has incurred in support of science-based measures that allowed our public universities to offer one of the nation’s safest in-person experiences in higher education this academic year – none of which have been passed onto our students.

Aid allocations are determined by the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) consistent with the formulas provided in the relevant law and are most affected by the percentage of each institution’s student population eligible for need-based federal Pell grants. Please note the allocations detailed below only reflect the primary institutional and student relief. To-date, several other higher education emergency relief provisions have provided $1.4M in additional total funds for UMS universities, but the allowable uses of those funds vary from those outlined here. This summary also does not include other relief that will directly and indirectly benefit the UMS and its students, including broadband investment and aid for state and local governments.

Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) – March 27, 2020: Relief provided through the CARES Act to UMS universities was required to be split 50/50 with students, as detailed below. Institutional funds could only be used to address costs directly associated with the significant changes to the delivery of instruction due to the coronavirus.

Relief for students was required to be passed-through to them in the form of emergency financial aid grants for expenses related to the disruption of campus operations due to coronavirus. Per the Act, only students who were Title IV eligible were able to receive this relief. In total, UMS universities sent direct payments of as much as $675 to more than 20,000 eligible students within two weeks of receiving these funds from USDOE, and provided further emergency aid via an application process to those with exceptional need.

Institution Institutional Relief Student Relief Total
University of Maine & University of Maine at Machias $3,948,625 $3,948,625 $7,897,250
University of Maine at Augusta $675,763 $675,763 $1,351,526
University of Maine at Farmington $1,079,026 $1,079,026 $2,157,052
University of Maine at Fort Kent $313,018 $313,018 $626,036
University of Maine at Presque Isle $305,499 $305,499 $610,998
University of Southern Maine & University of Maine School of Law $2,308,122 $2,308,122 $4,616,244
Total: $8,630,053 $8,630,053 $17,260,106

Coronavirus Response & Relief Supplemental Approps. Act (CRRSAA) – Dec. 27, 2020: Relief provided by the CRRSAA was largely intended to defray institutional expenses associated with coronavirus, including (but not limited to) lost revenue, reimbursement for expenses already incurred (since March 13, 2020), and payroll. Institutions are required to provide at least the same total amount to students as they did per the CARES Act, in the form of financial aid grants for any component of the cost of attendance or for emergency costs that arise due to coronavirus. Payments can be applied to student accounts, with their consent.

Student eligibility was not defined in the Act, though institutions are required to prioritize those with exceptional need and the USDOE recently provided guidance to make clear that non-degree seeking, non-credit, dual enrollment and continuing education students are in-fact eligible, including those who are not currently enrolled but have been at any point since March 13, 2020. However, USDOE under both the Trump and Biden Administrations determined international/DACA, etc. students are ineligible for these funds.

Though CRRSAA was enacted in late December 2020, UMS universities did not receive funds until late March in some cases and USDOE continues to release new official guidance on allowable uses. As a result, the earliest UMS students will likely receive funds is April 2021. All funds are expected to be spent within one year of receipt.

Institution Institutional Relief Student Relief Total
University of Maine & University of Maine at Machias $8,866,116 $3,948,625 $12,814,741
University of Maine at Augusta $2,861,340 $675,763 $3,537,103
University of Maine at Farmington $2,292,415 $1,079,026 $3,371,441
University of Maine at Fort Kent $1,040,784 $313,018 $1,353,803
University of Maine at Presque Isle $1,004,752 $305,499 $1,310,251
University of Southern Maine & University of Maine School of Law $6,226,577 $2,308,122 $8,534,700
Total: $22,291,984 $8,630,053 $30,922,039

American Rescue Plan – March 11, 2021: The American Rescue Plan includes $40B for postsecondary institutions and their students. As with the CARES Act, institutions are required to split relief with students 50/50. Usage of the funds, however, is consistent with CRRSAA. Institutions may use their share to offset expenses and lost revenue incurred since March 13, 2020. Student relief may be provided in the form or direct payments or applied to student accounts with their consent for any component of their cost of attendance or emergencies caused by coronavirus. Student eligibility is expected to be the same as under CRRSAA.

Allocations have not yet been finalized by USDOE, but preliminary estimates suggest UMS universities could receive approximately $55M in total, half of which would ultimately go to students. It is believed funds can be expended through September 2023.

This is expected to be the final Congressional COVID relief package. The Biden Administration is currently developing a long-term recovery package that will likely focus on public infrastructure investments, combating climate change, and addressing economic inequities including through education and workforce development.