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September 23. 2012 12:02AM

USNH's bad deal: Look to community colleges

The trustees of the University System of New Hampshire (USNH) must think the state’s legislators are really, really bad at math.

Determined to balance the budget without raising taxes, legislators have cut $100 million in state support from USNH. It was a nearly 50 percent cut in state aid. Now trustees say they have a swell bargain for legislators. If legislators permanently restore that $100 million to the USNH budget, the system will freeze tuition for two years and increase financial aid for in-state students.

The proposal is laughable. If the system could freeze tuition and increase financial aid with the same state appropriation it had in 2010-2011, why didn’t it do it then?

Legislators ought to respond by demanding more substantial reforms. Chancellor Ed McKay says the system absorbed 80 percent of the budget cuts by making a combination of one-time and continuing spending reductions. That should be considered only a start.

Any discussion of restoring state funding ought to be predicated upon making the system and its member institutions as lean and cost-effective as possible for the future. Curtailing extraneous spending should not be a one-time operation, but an ongoing obsession.

That means rethinking existing operations, partnering with private businesses to reduce the burden on taxpayers and offer more options to students, and jettisoning the notion that it’s OK to raise spending and costs annually.

This is not impossible. In fact, it is being done already — at the Community College System of New Hampshire, which, by the way, got less state aid and still froze tuition. Surely the great minds at USNH will not concede that the folks who run the state’s community colleges are more creative and nimble administrators than they are.


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