Richard Galway and Pamela Diamantis: It is time for the state to invest more in USNH
New Hampshire's four-year public colleges and universities proudly graduate more than 6,500 people into the workforce each year. These graduates are our engineers, nurses, teachers, farmers, law enforcement officials, business leaders and taxpayers. Each year, the University of New Hampshire, Plymouth State University, Keene State College and Granite State College contribute more than $2 billion to the economy in employment, direct expenditures, and workforce development. However, these positive contributions are being threatened by the lack of state support of our public colleges and universities.
The Legislature's decision last year to drastically cut support by 49 percent means the state is providing the lowest level of support per capita in the nation and, as a result, we now receive less than 6 percent of our total operating budget from the state. While we are actively controlling costs, the state's reduction in support increases the tuition rate New Hampshire families struggle to pay.
We pledge to freeze in-state tuition for two years and to substantially increase financial aid for New Hampshire students provided the Legislature partners with us and restores support to the 2010-2011 level of $100 million per year.
The consequences of the state's low support for public higher education on New Hampshire and our families is clear: 1) the price of attendance at USNH institutions is far higher than it should be; 2) the burden of providing non-federal financial aid to New Hampshire's neediest students falls nearly exclusively to USNH institutions; 3) USNH students graduate with one of the highest debt loads in the country; and 4) our public colleges and universities are at a competitive disadvantage to retain New Hampshire's best and brightest high school graduates in the state.
The impact on the New Hampshire business climate and job creation is equally clear: For New Hampshire to grow its economy, attract new businesses and provide jobs for the knowledge economy, our colleges and universities must supply educated workers. USNH has committed its limited resources to driving new and expanded educational programs where the state's workforce development needs are the greatest.
In 2011, Keene State and Plymouth State started nursing programs with great success. UNH has tripled its engineering graduates in the last decade and is now also enrolling 30 percent more business students. Granite State College is offering more online opportunities for citizens statewide and has seen a surge in enrollment. In partnership with the Community College System, USNH has committed to double the number of graduates in science, technology, engineering and math by 2025.
USNH is aggressively managing costs. In fact, our institutions' cost to educate a student is consistently 15-18 percent less than at comparable institutions. Between 2001 and 2011, USNH institutions experienced overall enrollment growth of more than 17 percent. During that same period, faculty membership grew at a slower rate while staff positions actually decreased by 4 percent. The use of shared services allows the University System to bundle like operations and functions in order to drive pricing and cost efficiencies. Additionally, each institution continues to innovate the delivery of student learning while finding ways to maximize the use of its campus on a year-round basis.
Higher education works for New Hampshire, and our mission is to provide affordable and accessible quality higher education to the people of New Hampshire. We are working hard to keep the dream of a higher education alive for New Hampshire families. Restoration of state funding would provide the University System of New Hampshire with the resources required to ensure an affordable experience while lessening the burden of college debt.
Now is the time for the governor and the Legislature to make this essential investment in New Hampshire's university system and assure we have the workforce needed to fuel our economy. To maintain New Hampshire's advantage of a highly educated and engaged population, we must move forward together to provide the opportunity for the next generation of New Hampshire to succeed and lead the continued enhancement of our economy and quality of life.
Richard Galway is chairman, and Pamela Diamantis is vice chairman, of the University System of New Hampshire Board of Trustees.