Public universities want more state funding, improved relationship with N.H. lawmakers
The University System of New Hampshire wants a lot more money from the state in the next biennial budget. Its top officials also want to mend their relationship with state lawmakers, University of New Hampshire President Mark Huddleston told the House Finance Committee yesterday.
“As nice as it would be to move out of last place in America in public funding for higher education, I know that’s not realistic, at least not across one biennium,” he said. “But I do have a goal that is both realistic and critical: I want to change the tenor of the conversation that we have with one another. I want to end the sniping and the adversarial relationship. I want you to be proud of your institutions of higher education in New Hampshire.”
Huddleston appeared before the panel with Edward MacKay, chancellor of the university system, and the presidents of Granite State College, Keene State College and Plymouth State University.
The finance committee has been meeting with state agency heads as it prepares to assemble the state budget for the two fiscal years beginning July 1. Gov. Maggie Hassan will submit her budget proposal to the Legislature by Feb. 15.
The university system saw its state support of $100 million a year cut by nearly half in the budget passed in 2011. State funding of about $51 million made up 5.6 percent of the system’s total revenue in fiscal 2012.
System officials have requested that the state restore its funding to $100 million a year in the next budget. In exchange, they said, the four colleges would freeze in-state tuition for the next two years.
Hassan, a Democrat, has said funding for public colleges and universities is a priority, but she hasn’t committed to restoring all the money that was cut.
“Cutting state support for public education in half while lowering the tobacco tax two years ago was short sighted,” Hassan said during her Jan. 3 inaugural address. “It hurt our young people and, if not quickly addressed, will impair our future economic prosperity. We must begin to reverse course. In exchange, the university system, working with us, needs to increase the number of New Hampshire students admitted to our state colleges and universities and freeze in-state tuition.”
The state’s community colleges also are seeking more money from the Legislature for the approaching biennium. The Community College System of New Hampshire, which lost about a fifth of its state funding in the last budget, has requested a 33 percent increase to $42.5 million a year, which officials said would allow them to reduce tuition by 5 percent.
MacKay told the finance committee members yesterday that New Hampshire provides relatively little public money for its four-year colleges and universities. Per capita state support for higher education is $63, he said, compared with a New England average of $188 and the national average of $233.
In 2000, MacKay said, New Hampshire’s per-student net state subsidy was $4,335. Based on the rate of inflation, he said, that number should be $5,937 today, but instead dropped from $3,256 in fiscal 2011 to $622 in fiscal 2012 and $575 in fiscal 2013.
“We talk about a fiscal cliff, and I think there’s no better depiction of a fiscal cliff than what we experienced in the current biennium,” he said.
Huddleston spoke broadly yesterday, telling the House panel that the relationship between public universities and public officials frayed over the last two or three decades as rapidly rising tuition costs collided with increasingly tight state budgets.
“Those who were once partners in a great common enterprise soon became finger-pointing adversaries,” he said. “Colleges were accused of bloat, inefficiency and unresponsiveness. Public officials were painted as uncaring or hostile to education.”
He said the partnership must be renewed if New Hampshire wants to protect its economy and future.
“Really, there is not any choice,” Huddleston said. “Either we do it together and survive, or we try to go it alone and we perish.”
(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or email@example.com or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)