Our Turn: State universities deserve state support
Accessible and affordable public higher education requires a true partnership with businesses, citizens, elected officials, higher education and students and their families. As parents we are joining the presidents of the state’s four-year public colleges and universities in asking the Legislature to restore financial support to the 2010-11 level of $100 million per year. If funding is restored, our public four-year colleges and universities have promised to freeze in-state tuition for two years and increase financial aid. This will help thousands of middle-class families in New Hampshire.
We are not asking for a free ride for our children but rather a meaningful contribution from the state. The nearly 50 percent cut lawmakers made in 2011 was the largest in the history of higher education in America. New Hampshire now provides just 6 percent of the budget of our public colleges and universities. New Hampshire ranks last in the nation in per capita support of higher education. Even if lawmakers doubled their support, New Hampshire would still be last. This fact is embarrassing, and the failure to invest in our young people is shortsighted.
The state’s college students already graduate with the highest loan debt in the country; the average loan debt of a UNH student graduating in 2010 was $32,320. We believe our public four-year colleges and universities are working hard to keep tuition affordable. As parents we are asking for the same commitment from our governor and Legislature.
These institutions are cutting expenses and looking for creative, new ways to raise revenue in order to protect the high quality of their education and research, and to prevent Granite State families from shouldering the entire burden. When the state cut its support so dramatically last year, the impact on our families would have been enormous had each campus not responded by cutting budgets and finding one-time savings. At UNH, for example, if in-state students and their families had been asked to make up the entire loss in state appropriation, in-state tuition would have gone up $4,650. Instead, it went up $650.
A broader concern
But support of our public four-year colleges and universities isn’t just about the families with college-aged children. It is about the future of our state and its economy.
Each year, the University of New Hampshire, Plymouth State University, Keene State College and Granite State College contribute more than $2 billion to the economy in employment, direct expenditures and workforce development. These graduates will stay in the state – New Hampshire’s four-year public colleges and universities graduate more than 6,500 people into the workforce each year – to purchase homes, raise their children, pay taxes and work as our engineers, nurses, teachers, farmers, law enforcement officials and business leaders.
And that’s important because New Hampshire’s population is aging. According to research from UNH’s Carsey Institute, the population age 65 and over will almost certainly double in the next two decades. The number of children diminished between 2000 and 2010, and at the same time the number of young adults and family-age residents increased only modestly. Any company looking to relocate to the Granite State or deciding whether to stay will base their decision on the availability of a skilled workforce. Already the state’s business leaders are in desperate need of college graduates ready for the workplace, especially engineers, computer scientists and programmers. We fear there will soon come a time when the tax climate will no longer be enough of a carrot and businesses will flee the state.
The lack of state support for higher education is putting us all at risk. We urge all New Hampshire residents to contact their legislators and ask them to restore support for our four-year public colleges and universities. We owe it to our young people. The success of our state depends on them.
(Jodi and Chris Broom of Sunapee are the parents of two Plymouth State University graduates and a first-year student at PSU. Their piece was also signed by Susan and Steve Fortier of Alstead, the parents of two Keene State College students; and Greg Samuel of Allenstown, the father of two University of New Hampshire students).