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Another View: Why restoring state funding for the University System of New Hampshire makes sense

February 25. 2013 5:38PM

New Hampshire families with students attending our public colleges and universities can be grateful that the governor's two-year budget proposal directs money specifically toward making higher education more affordable for them. After weathering the largest cut in state support for higher education in our nation's history, we are also proud of our response in identifying savings and generating new revenues - and in ways that help New Hampshire students on a path to lifelong opportunity and achievement.

We also take great pride in our partnership with the state, and we are committed to ensuring that every dollar of state funding restored to our budget will be directed to freezing in-state tuition, enhancing student aid to offset fee increases, and providing additional scholarships for our state's neediest and highest-achieving students. And we are especially grateful to the state's business community, alumni, parents and students who have signed on to support these efforts.

Indeed, the budget proposal benefits all of our citizens because it recognizes the vital role of our University System of New Hampshire (USNH) institutions in boosting the state's economy - resulting in more than $2 billion a year in economic activity.

Now, one might wonder why we are so enthusiastic about the budget proposal. After all, it would provide USNH with 10 percent less state support than it had in 2009 (and that's not adjusting for inflation). If the budget were approved, New Hampshire would continue to be last in the nation in per capita support for public higher education, by far.

We are grateful because we know where we've been, and are. In 2011, state support for USNH was cut nearly 50 percent. A decade ago, New Hampshire provided each student more than $4,000 in public support. Today, it is less than $600. Currently, our students graduate with the highest level of student debt in the country. And USNH receives just 6 percent of its budget from the state.

Following the budget cut, we made sweeping changes to operate more efficiently, both within our institutions and, working with the Board of Trustees, at the USNH chancellor's office. We are developing new public-private partnerships that bring innovative technology to the marketplace. We have increased our online course offerings, some of which are rated "best" in the nation by U.S. News and World Report.

We are also attracting more international and out-of-state students, who pay more to study with us. And although per student state support has declined, we increased in-state financial aid from $6.6 million in 2003 to $33.2 million in 2013. Finally, we are doing all this while maintaining quality and returning tremendous rewards to New Hampshire for the state's modest investment.

We know from companies like Albany International, which recently brought hundreds of highly skilled jobs to New Hampshire, that public higher education is a deciding factor in locating here. Projections say that by 2018, retirement and job growth will create 2.3 million vacancies across New England. In New Hampshire, employment projections through 2016 indicate positions requiring a bachelor's degree will grow at a rate 70 percent faster than those that do not.

Yet today, nearly half of New Hampshire's college-bound students choose to go to other states, due at least in part to their concerns over declining state support here.

The governor's proposal is an opportunity to reverse that trend. Freezing the total cost of attendance and increasing need- and merit-based aid sends a powerful message to New Hampshire students: We want you to stay here, and to succeed in college. We want you to graduate to find good careers here, too. It also assures their families that that they will be protected from rising college costs for at least two years. In fact, some needy and high-performing students may see their costs go down. We are committed to maintaining our focus on affordability far beyond this biennium as well.

Today, thanks to our fiscal stewardship, we are grateful for a budget proposal that would restore most of what was cut in 2011. As state lawmakers meet in the coming months, we urge them to support the governor's budget for higher education-with its focus on directing support entirely to in-state students - as a wise investment for all of New Hampshire.

Mark W. Huddleston is president of the University of New Hampshire. Jay Kahn is president of Keene State College. Todd J. Leach is president of Granite State College. Sara Jayne Steen is president of Plymouth State University.

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