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Since recession, N.H. tuition is up, while support for public higher ed is down

  • Students walk past the historic Thompson Hall at the University of New Hampshire in Durham in April 2016. AP file



Monitor staff
Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Higher education spending in New Hampshire is the lowest in the nation and continues to lag behind pre-recession levels, leading the state’s schools to rely far more on student tuition than on public support, according to a recent study by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington, D.C.

The study, which used data from the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association, found New Hampshire is one of 44 states whose funding levels are lower than they were before the recession.

Since fiscal year 2008, just before the recession, New Hampshire’s appropriations per full-time student in the public higher education system have dropped 25 percent, according to the data.

Overall, the study found that funding for colleges and universities around the country has dropped by $9 billion compared to inflation-adjusted levels in 2008.

The spending cuts have directly caused increases to tuition costs and student debts, the study found. In New Hampshire, tuition rose an average of 1.9 percent – $299 – from 2016 to 2017, according to the study, which cited figures from the College Board.

In its national report, the left-leaning think tank said the cuts came out of state legislators’ decision to reduce spending rather than raise taxes in order to plug budget shortfalls after the recession.

“A more balanced mix of spending cuts and revenue increases could have lessened the need for higher education funding cuts,” the report states.

The Granite State has long held dubious distinctions of its own in higher education funding: In fiscal year 2015, New Hampshire provided the lowest amount in higher education money per capita in the country, the association found. And New Hampshire’s graduating class of 2015 had the highest average student debt of any state, according to research from the Institute for College Access and Success.

Traditionally, New Hampshire leans heavily on students to pay for public higher education; in fiscal year 2014, New Hampshire apportioned 1.9 percent of total tax revenues for higher education, well below the national average of 5.8 percent.

And nearly 80 percent of revenue came from tuition in fiscal year 2016 – the second-highest proportion of any state other than Vermont. Vermont and New Hampshire have been the most tuition-dependent states in the nation for decades, according to the study, a finding echoed by the New Hampshire Fiscal Policy Institute.

Since the recession, net revenue from tuition has increased 16.2 percent in New Hampshire, while inflation-adjusted support for higher education has declined.

As concerns over student debt mount, some New Hampshire higher education institutions are taking matters into their own hands. This year, the University of New Hampshire has 400 tuition-free students, as part of a financial aid program for state residents who qualify for Pell Grants.

And increased costs have not appeared to deter demand. Full-time enrollment at public higher educational institutions has increased by 11 percent since the recession, according to the association. At UNH, the freshman class has grown by 100 students.