AUGUSTA, Maine - In a joint convention Thursday, members of Maine's House and Senate came together to hear how the state's public higher education institutions are faring.
University of Maine System Chancellor James Page told lawmakers that major streamlining and cost-cutting efforts mean that the university's projected budget deficit - once at $90 million - currently sits at less than $20 million, and should be totally eliminated by 2021.
But Page cautioned that Maine industries such as engineering, computer science and especially nursing need more support.
"Educating a greater number of nurses is essential. But the truth is, it costs more money to provide a first class nursing education than we could possibly charge in tuition," Page said.
Maine Nursing Action Coalition estimates that by 2025, Maine's nursing shortage will top 3,000 positions. Page says even today, hundreds of nursing posts remain unfilled.
"If we want to increase the number of nurses, if we want to meet critical state needs, we must invest," Page said. "But, in asking you to invest, we commit to you that we will increase these number of quality, prepared nurses."
Page urged lawmakers to support funding for early college programs, as well as an increase in general funding. He said such funding to the university has only increased by a total of 2.34 percent over the last 10 years.
The university is seeking yearly funding increases in line with predicted rates of inflation - 2.6 percent in fiscal year 2018, and 2.3 percent for fiscal year 2019.
With two-thirds of Maine jobs expected to require post-secondary degrees by 2020, Derek Langhauser, president of the Maine Community College System, said that Maine is not prepared.
"Currently only 39 percent of Maine adults have a college credential, so we have a long way to go to make sure that Maine people, and their employers, will have the skills that they need to meet the needs of the changing economy," Langhauser told lawmakers.
Langhauser says Maine's Community College System, with its tuition rates the lowest in New England - at $3,600 for a full-time student - is an essential step for many less-advantaged students, who go on to university or choose to head straight to work.