Our Turn: We are all richer because of public higher education
As former governors who were honored to serve the people of New Hampshire, we know firsthand that balancing a state budget for the greatest public good is a truly challenging responsibility, one that those on both sides of the aisle take to heart. With that in mind and as the only two governors to have graduated from the University of New Hampshire, we are also proud to stand with parents, students, alumni and business leaders in supporting efforts to restore state funding for the University System of New Hampshire.
One of the most powerful investments our state makes to create opportunity, inspire innovation and maintain “The New Hampshire Advantage” is our support for public higher education. In simple terms: An educated workforce is the economic engine that drives our state forward. And given the recent recession and the struggles facing working families and businesses, New Hampshire needs that investment now more than ever.
New Hampshire must make the commitment to reinvest in public higher education to ensure that our state continues to succeed in an increasingly competitive and innovative regional, national and global economy.
Beyond offering today’s students a first-rate education, our public colleges and universities extend remarkable support to every community and economic sector of New Hampshire through research, expertise, technology and a skilled workforce. USNH institutions generate about $2 billion a year in economic activity for the state.
In 2011, for example, our public higher education institutions provided technical assistance to more than 5,000 New Hampshire businesses. And businesses that received that help were far more likely to survive – and thrive. USNH institutions educate more than half of the state’s graduates in the fields of engineering, engineering technology and computer science, all of which are in high demand and short supply.
In fact, in response to industry demand, USNH and the Community College System of New Hampshire recently committed to doubling the number of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) graduates by 2025.
These efforts create a vital pipeline of talent. And by hiring our graduates, our businesses help us to keep New Hampshire students in our state, where they contribute to their communities.
USNH institutions also educate our nurses and first responders, help our cities and towns build better bridges and roads, train our teachers, strengthen our state’s important travel and tourism industry, and help our entrepreneurs on the path to success. Popular programs such as the UNH Cooperative Extension assist our agriculture and forestry sectors, and develop new markets, products and services. In fact, Cooperative Extension’s outreach mission also inspires our state’s spirit of volunteerism, rallying some 800 volunteers who gave more than 65,000 hours to their communities last year.
Our investment in human capital is every bit as important as the return on the bottom line. We are all richer because of public higher education, and keeping it affordable and accessible is a shared responsibility.
Finally, it is important to bear in mind that state support for public higher education goes directly to making college more accessible and affordable for in-state students. State support also allows the public colleges and universities to accept more in-state students, providing the workforce that encourages businesses to expand and locate in New Hampshire.
In the interest of maintaining The New Hampshire Advantage, we urge our citizens and elected leaders to join us in supporting efforts to restore public support for public higher education for the Granite State.
(Republican Stephen Merrill served as governor from 1993-97. Democrat John Lynch served as governor from 2005-2012.)