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N.H. community-colleges chancellor says more state support could mean lower tuition

Dr. Ross Gittell was recently named Chancellor of the Community College System of New Hampshire and was photographed at NHTI on Friday, February 3, 2012.

(John Tully/Monitor Staff)

Dr. Ross Gittell was recently named Chancellor of the Community College System of New Hampshire and was photographed at NHTI on Friday, February 3, 2012. (John Tully/Monitor Staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

New Hampshire’s community colleges could freeze or even reduce tuition if the state government increases its financial support for the seven-school system, Chancellor Ross Gittell told House budget-writers yesterday.

The Community College System of New Hampshire saw its state funding cut by about a fifth in the two-year budget passed by the Legislature in 2011, and tuition rose that year by 7.7 percent. Tuition was kept flat last year at the cost of reduced hiring, and roughly 20 percent of staff and faculty positions are now vacant, twice as many as normal, Gittell said.

“We’re at our capacity to continue to hold the line on tuition,” he told the House Finance Committee yesterday.

The system has requested $42.5 million a year from the state for the next biennium, a roughly 33 percent increase from the $31.9 million it received in the current fiscal year.

A state contribution of $37.5 million a year would restore the funding that was cut and freeze tuition, according to written materials presented to the finance panel yesterday. An additional $3 million would pay for a 5 percent cut in tuition, to $200 per credit from the current $210. (Tuition was $195 per credit before the 2011 hike.)

An additional $2 million would go to continue funding an advanced composite manufacturing program.

New Hampshire’s public support for community colleges is relatively low compared with other states. Gittell said his request for state support would cover about 35 percent of the system’s total budget, compared with a national average of 54 percent. And the system’s tuition is about twice the national average.

House Finance Committee members didn’t dig into the guts of the system’s budget yesterday. The panel’s ranking Republican, Weare Rep. Neal Kurk, did ask whether the state might want to target its funding to, for example, reduce tuition or provide scholarships for science, technology, engineering and math programs, the so-called STEM fields.

“Your approach seems to be, ‘Let’s have more state money so that we can subsidize the cost of education for all of our students,’ ” Kurk said. “From the state’s point of view, wouldn’t it make more sense to target that money towards the kinds of fields where we feel there’s the most benefit for the state as a whole?”

Gittell said the system already works closely with industry to make sure its academic programs match up with labor-force needs.

“I’m willing to partner with you,” Gittell said. “I’m willing to think up ways to do this creatively.”

The finance committee has been meeting with the heads of state agencies as it prepares to craft a budget for the two fiscal years that begin July 1. Gov. Maggie Hassan must deliver her proposed budget to the Legislature by Feb. 15.

(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or
bleubsdorf@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)

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