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Community College System of New Hampshire to freeze tuition rates

Tuition at schools in the Community College System of New Hampshire for the 2013-2014 school year will remain the same as last year’s rate, the college system announced yesterday.

The system’s board of trustees voted unanimously yesterday morning to freeze tuition after a two-year state budget passed Wednesday with increased funding for the colleges.

College system Chancellor Ross Gittell said the trustees have made keeping tuition low their top priority over the last several years.

“Our focus is on affordability and accessibility for students to higher education and advanced economic opportunities, and the key to that is tuition,” he said. “It helps students and their families, and it also helps New Hampshire employment and the economy. Students complete their education and train and are able to improve the skilled workforce.”

This is the fourth school year since 2006 the college system has frozen tuition, and Gittell said he expects enrollment to increase as a result.

“That’s a pretty strong track record in New Hampshire and across the country,” he said. “We’re expanding our programming in advanced manufacturing and other key areas along with the economy, and we’re able to hold tuition constant.”

In the last biennial state budget for the 2012 and 2013 fiscal years, the community college system was appropriated $31.6 million and about $32 million for each respective year. The funds were cut from the $37.5 million they received for the 2011 fiscal year.

As a result of the decrease in their budget, Gittell said the board voted to raise tuition for the 2011-2012 school year.

In years when the college system has increased tuition, Gittell said the schools notice the effects. Enrollment stays constant, but the average number of credits students take decreases.

“When students take fewer credits total in a semester, it affects how much time they take to graduate and it affects their persistence rates negatively,” he said.

This past school year, they were able to freeze tuition but were forced to eliminate certain courses and curricula, he said.

“When we had our budget cutbacks and tried to sustain affordability, it really affected our ability to serve the range of programs that are being asked by industries to help with that skilled workforce out there,” Gittell said.

The college system committed to Gov. Maggie Hassan it would freeze tuition for the 2013-2014 school year if the budget was restored to the $37.5 million appropriation of 2011. The state budget passed by the Legislature on Wednesday reflected that restoration. With the additional funds, Gittell said the college system is able to not only freeze tuition but also advance its programming.

“We really appreciate the public officials’ support, and we’re going to focus on using that support to provide education that aligns with the economy’s needs of the state and for affordability and accessibility,” he said.

Hassan applauded the colleges for following through on their promise and swiftly freezing tuition in a statement issued by her office yesterday afternoon. These schools offer state citizens a cutting-edge education that prepares them for high-quality jobs, she said.

“With this tuition freeze, we will help more of our people afford this critical education in order to build a stronger workforce, support innovative businesses and create good jobs that will lead to a bright economic future for all,” Hassan said in the statement.

If the college system’s funds had not been restored in the state budget, Gittell said the tuition freeze would have been unlikely, although the ultimate decision lies with the board of trustees.

According to a press release issued by the college system, the freeze keeps in-state tuition at New Hampshire’s seven community colleges at $210 per credit, which translates to a $5,040 minimum annual tuition for a full-time student. Tuition in the New England Regional Student Program remains $315 per credit, and out-of-state tuition will stay at $478 per credit.

The tuition freeze comes in the midst of two years of contract negotiations between the college system administrators and adjunct professors. The Monitor reported April 25 that administrators have limited adjuncts to teaching nine credit hours per semester starting in the fall. The restriction leaves the educators with a maximum of about 27 hours of work per week and greatly diminishes their potential earnings.

Gittell said while the increased budget could have a positive impact on some areas of the contract, there are a number of other issues unrelated to compensation that are being negotiated.

Wednesday’s approved state budget also increased state aid to the public university system, which includes the University of New Hampshire, Plymouth State University, Keene State College and Granite State College. The board of trustees for the universities are scheduled to meet today at Keene State to vote on whether they will freeze costs for their schools.

(Mel Flanagan can be reached at 369-3321 or mflanagan@cmonitor.com.)

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