USNH leaders seek restored funding for higher education
CONCORD - Restoring state funding to the university system would mean a freeze in tuition rates, legislators were told Monday.
In the last biennium, public funding for in-state students was cut nearly in half. On Monday, presidents asked for $100 million back.
"With full funding, we will freeze tuition, nearly double financial aid and continue to develop partnerships with employers and the community college system to implement innovative paths to degree completion," said Pamela Diamantis, vice chairman of the University System of New Hampshire Board of Trustees.
The four presidents of the state's colleges and universities also sat before the Governor's Fiscal Year 2014-15 Operating Budget Hearing and pleaded their case, arguing that New Hampshire's economy needs to retain its in-state students who are increasingly going out of state and sometimes finding it less expensive to do so. And while some return, many do not.
Each year the state's four-year institutions enroll more than 31,000 and graduate about 6,500.
"Over the past decade, the state of New Hampshire has dis-invested in its young people," Diamantis charged. In that time the state's per-student educational subsidy has dropped by more than $5,000.
Even if funding is restored, the state will still be ranked lowest in the nation in terms of per captia funding for public higher education with students carrying the highest debt in the nation, averaging $32,450 per student.
She urged legislators Monday to restore funding in exchange for a tuition freeze at UNH, Keene, Plymouth and Granite State College.
Chancellor Edward MacKay said New Hampshire is facing a loss of its high school graduates to other schools out of state and that is a problem for businesses and growth of the state's economy.
"Investing in higher education has always been good for business.
"Together, the institutions that comprise the university system annually contribute $2.2 billion to the state's economy in work force development, employment and direct expenditures. The nature of that investment is becoming ever more crucial. The New Hampshire work force is changing. Our highly educated workers are aging and fewer are arriving from out-of-state. ... we must grow our own."
UNH President Mark W. Huddleston said partnerships with businesses in the state have led to a 10 percent increase in corporate-sponsored research awards, with $159 million in external research grants going to UNH alone in this fiscal year.
He said the system recognizes jobs for New Hampshire's future and is nurturing the development of STEM - Science Technology Engineering Math - studies by developing more educational opportunities, and today in Manchester plans to announce a goal of doubling the number of STEM graduates by 2025.
"New Hampshire cannot cede its place in the innovation and technology marketplace to Massachusetts. We must invest in our future by funding higher education and supporting our research university," Huddleston said.
Sara Jayne Steen, president of PSU, said the university system brings much more to the state's economy than it did a decade ago and serves many more students.
Yet the system needs a restoration of funds taken from it in the last budget round.
She said there is broad popular support for restoring funding in exchange for freezing tuition.
According to a recent Granite State poll, she said 71 percent support restoring the appropriation.
"In addition, we have received specific endorsements from business leaders around the state who believe that an investment in public higher education is essential to the future of the New Hampshire economy and its work force," Steen said.
The hearings with other department heads and commissioners continue today and on Friday.
This is just the beginning of about six months of work on a new budget for 2014 and 2015.