My Turn: Tuition cuts are killing state’s community colleges

Last modified: 5/23/2015 12:19:01 AM
On May 13, Great Bay Community College eliminated 15 percent of its full-time faculty positions as well as two staff positions – only months after 12 staff positions were eliminated. Two of our sister colleges, White Mountains Community College in Berlin and Lakes Region Community College in Laconia, announced similar levels of layoffs during the same week. NHTI, recently commended by the Brookings Institution for the “value added” to student economic status, has eliminated faculty and staff positions in the double digits over the past year, and there are rumors of more layoffs to come at several other Community College System of New Hampshire campuses.

It is ironic that at a time when community colleges are enjoying a higher profile nationally than any time in recent memory, and when politicians all the way to the White House are extolling the crucial role of community colleges in sustaining the American Dream, CCSNH is apparently in the process of being dismantled, if not eviscerated.

Those of us who have been with CCSNH for a long time know that resources have always been tight: We are extraordinarily well practiced at the art of doing more with less. Although we have been through tough financial times before, we have never seen mass layoffs of full-time faculty at institutions where the numbers of full-time faculty were already dangerously low.

At GBCC, approximately 75 percent of teaching faculty are adjunct faculty, all of whom are limited to teaching a couple of courses per semester at low wages with no benefits. This situation is similar, or worse, at other CCSNH campuses. However talented and dedicated our adjuncts may be, they cannot provide the academic leadership required to support transfer programs, student success and retention initiatives, or any of the other vital programs that support our students – especially given that many of them must work part time at several different schools just to support themselves.

In light of mass faculty layoffs, how much credence can be given to the governor’s drive to increase New Hampshire’s STEM workforce 25 percent by 2025, or to the report produced by the governor’s STEM Education Commission that called for greater rigor and broader student access to excellence in science and mathematics education? To take on new challenges and set new objectives for the community college system while discarding the very tools and resources that would allow us to meet those challenges successfully is both purblind and reckless.

For some time now, Gov. Hassan, CCSNH Board of Trustees Chairman Paul Holloway, and CCSNH Chancellor Ross Gittell have been making much of tuition reduction as a weighty accomplishment on behalf of the community college students of New Hampshire. In the academic year just completed, CCSNH tuition was reduced from $210 to $200 per credit hour. While it is difficult to find fault with tuition reduction, consider that New Hampshire’s community colleges receive only 27 percent of their operating budget from the state. This is why we have among the highest community college tuition rates in the country.

Nevertheless, CCSNH tuition is still a great bargain in comparison to four-year colleges and universities. And while a reduction of $10 per credit hour does indeed put a bit of much-needed cash in the pockets of our students, the impact of this modest individual gain on an institution heavily dependent upon tuition for the vast majority of its rising operating expenses is profound and in the long run of little to no academic benefit to our students.

Increased funding from the state seems unlikely in the current political climate. This being the case, we must then set tuition at a level that allows us to maintain an excellent, dedicated faculty who in turn will ensure that our limited resources are directed toward maintaining academic excellence. Otherwise, we will see the Community College System of New Hampshire become part of a great national slide toward mediocrity and diminished opportunity.



(Leslie Barber is a biology professor and chairwoman of the faculty senate at Great Bay Community College in Portsmouth.)




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