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October 11. 2012 10:33PM

UNH president focuses on fundraising


University of New Hampshire President Mark Huddleston delivers his annual "State of the University" address Thursday in the Granite State Room of the Memorial Union Building in Durham. GRETYL MACALASTER 

DURHAM — University of New Hampshire President Mark Huddleston was optimistic in his assessment of the state's largest public university during his annual “State of the University” address Thursday.

He focused on four ongoing campaigns, including philanthropic fundraising, strategic planning, autonomy and a new initiative titled “UNH Works for New Hampshire” whose mission is to persuade the New Hampshire Legislature to restore nearly $50 million in funding cut from the university system's budget last year.

Huddleston reaffirmed the university's offer to freeze tuition increases for the next biennium and significantly increase scholarships and grants, if the state reinstates that funding.

He described the 2011 budget cut as the deepest single cut to public higher education in American history. UNH now receives just six percent of its budget from the state, the lowest per-capita for public higher education in the nation, Huddleston said.

The UNH Works campaign is about showing the state's elected leaders that keeping UNH affordable and accessible is critically important, not only to thousands of students and their families, but to all of New Hampshire, he said.

“No one who knows anything about economic development thinks that the way to prosperity is through disinvestment from education. Not surprisingly then, independent experts who study New Hampshire's economy, demographics and policy say that New Hampshire must invest in higher education to remain competitive with other states and to promote sustainable growth,” Huddleston said.

He said that UNH contributes $1.4 billion to the New Hampshire economy each year.

UNH's long-range strategic plan, “UNH 2020,” is now in its third year. Huddleston said gifts and pledges were up more than 77 percent from the previous fiscal year, for a total of $22.5 million. This year's goal for gifts and pledges is $28 million.

The president said the university is starting to “bend the cost curve,” making UNH more affordable and accessible.

“We are doing this in part by continuing to be frugal Yankees and cutting costs whenever and wherever possible,” Huddleston said. “But more importantly, we are doing it by innovating.”

Later this month, Huddleston will announce a new Presidential Commission to look at ways the university can use emerging technologies and free courseware to enhance the quality and flexibility of its offerings.

He said offering more college credits in high school, during January term and summer sessions and online through eUNH, is allowing more traditional and non-traditional students to come to UNH, graduate on time, and start their careers with smaller student loans.

New Hampshire already has the highest per-student loan debt in the nation, he said.

Huddleston also spoke to the success of external research grants and university involvement in the state, from agriculture to fishing to anti-bullying programs.

He said one out of every 12 UNH students receives support from an external research grant, with an average award in excess of $2,300.

“That should give pause to anyone inclined to criticize the UNH research mission,” Huddleston said.

The tuition question

After his address, Huddleston said he is optimistic about the university's future.

“There are great stories to tell around here. Nobody whines around here, even in the dark days of the budget cut. We figured out how to do things,” Huddleston said.

He said school officials have talked to many legislators about the proposal for restoring state funding, and some legislators seem embarrassed.

“The state was facing very difficult challenges and we never thought we should be exempt,” Huddleston said, but added that the university system took a disproportionate share of the cuts.

He said if you took the state cut and divided it by the number of New Hampshire UNH students, it would come to $4,650 per in-state student. Tuition was raised $650 this year, he said.

“It makes me angry to hear some people say UNH jacked up tuition,” Huddleston said. “We did raise it, but not proportionally.”

gmacalaster@unionleader.com


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