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Another View: More scholarships for students, fewer subsidies for universities

January 23. 2013 7:29PM

By 2018, 64 percent of New Hampshire jobs will require a postsecondary education, according to a report by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. With 141,000 of those jobs becoming vacant sometime before 2018 as a result of factors like job creation or retirements, New Hampshire's economy will rely on its ability to generate more college graduates to support economic development.

Right now, though, we're failing and moving in the wrong direction. In 1997, New Hampshire had the second highest six-year graduation rate of bachelor's students in the country. By 2009, the latest year for which data are available, the rate fell by nearly five percentage points to 60.6 percent and the state's national rank dropped 10 spots to number 12.

Sinking graduation rates are due, at least in part, to the rising costs of obtaining a college degree. Over the last five years, average in-state tuition and fees at New Hampshire's four-year public universities jumped 37 percent - one of the highest increases seen nationally.

With these rising costs that far surpass the rate of inflation, the average New Hampshire student holds $32,440 in student loans, meaning the Granite State currently leads the nation in student loan debt. Moreover, the high student loan data compounded with decreasing graduation rates indicate that many New Hampshire students are leaving college with tremendous student loans and no degree.

Contrary to what some policymakers have asserted, programs that simply increase subsidies to unaccountable colleges and universities will not address the issues New Hampshire faces. Simply writing another blank check to the university system will neither lower costs nor increase accountability.

Pushing back on the institution-first funding structure, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Morse, R-Salem, has put forth legislation that would introduce accountability into the higher education system. The Making Opportunities Occur for Student Excellence (MOOSE) scholarship program will send a portion of state higher-education subsidies directly to undergraduate students in the form of scholarships, rather than depositing that money in the college's general fund.

Putting funds in the hands of students instead of universities would require institutions of higher education to improve quality and decrease costs just to compete. Moreover, taxpayers can be given the confidence to know they are funding college students rather than a bloated university administration.

The proposal, which would offer transferable scholarships to New Hampshire residents that attend in-state public universities and community colleges, turns the traditional higher-education model on its head. Rather than having schools vie for state subsidies, Morse's legislation empowers consumers (i.e., parents and learners) and forces the state's colleges and universities to compete for students.

Regarding the legislation, Morse told the Union Leader, "I tried to draft legislation to fund students so they could go to New Hampshire schools. They can choose whether to go to the university or community college system or choose to go to Keene or Plymouth or UNH. We need to do something so our students will stay in the state of New Hampshire.."

Something must be done to reform New Hampshire's higher-education system. The education system will have lasting effects on the Granite State's economy and society. Using the MOOSE scholarship program's free-market approach, New Hampshire can begin to build an affordable and effective system of higher education that works on behalf of students and successfully molds a college-educated workforce for tomorrow's economy.

Stephen DeMaura is the President of Americans for Job Security and the former Executive Director of the New Hampshire Republican Party.

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