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February 05. 2013 5:50PM

USNH tuition freeze? That is not enough

If Gov. Maggie Hassan really wants to make New Hampshire institutions of higher education more affordable for students, she should insist on much more than a mere tuition freeze.

In the last budget, both the community college system and the University System of New Hampshire took steep cuts. The cuts at USNH totaled about $100 million, or nearly half the system's state subsidy, over two years. The university system has undertaken a lobbying and public relations push to have that money restored. Hassan says that won't happen without a tuition freeze.

That is not much of a demand. The university system had already offered to freeze tuition for the next two years in exchange for the budget restoration. That offer has been on the table for six months. Hassan's announcement on Monday that this will be the price of renewed funding is simply an acceptance of the system's proposal.

Unfortunately for students, this offers no solution to the very serious problem of ever-increasing tuition and fees. A two-year tuition freeze simply holds the already high tuition rate steady for half the time it takes to get a four-year degree. After that, universities are free to raise rates again.

Instead of insisting on a short-term tuition freeze, Hassan should demand serious structural reforms that will actually lower the cost of providing an education at USNH institutions. Only through substantial reductions in operational costs can the system make college truly more affordable in the long term.

Offering the system a sliding scale: say, $25 million for an X percent cut in operating expenses, $50 million for double that, etc., would be one way to go about it.

By simply agreeing to a short-term tuition freeze, Hassan would gain future students no advantages at all while obligating them (as taxpayers) to finance double the state subsidy the system now receives. A roughly 50 percent increase in state funding is a huge incentive. Hassan misses a tremendous opportunity if she fails to use it to the students' fullest advantage.


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