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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 bleubsdorf@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)

Legacy Comments2

Never in the mix do you see anybody champion on how the money is spent. Nobody knew about all that was promised to Union Members till we ran out of money. Then we all found out how unions work in regards to contributions by union members and the scope and costs of those benefits. Same with education. How much goes to programs for coded kids? What are those services like physical therapists, reading tutors, etc costing?. Could some of those services be cut back by parents stepping in and reading to their kids and teaching their kids motor skills like riding a bike or catching a baseball? Nobody seems to care that every year our taxes go up and up. Instead the focus is on programs and more spending under the guise of a fair education. So if we need to jusitfy more spending, than wouldn't it be wise to see where we spend it now and the results of that spending? That would tell us what programs work and do not.

""we try to go it alone and we perish.”" Possibly these college administrators could take a few economics courses at their own schools. They may find they are paying too high of salaries, employees don't work a full week, have programs that lose money every year, building programs that are not sustainable, they might learn why they are failing at running a business. These are the schools that are supposed to be teaching future business leaders and innovators and they cannot run their own business. What they are teaching students and parents is to go to the government and ask for the handouts and complain the government won't pay more.. Ask everyone else to pay more so they can pay less while the business runs out of control. I'll ask why the students and parents are not complaining to the colleges as to why the cost is so high and to lower it.

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