Editorial: College debt makes a gray state grayer

Published: 3/7/2019 12:05:04 AM

In 2009, Stay Work Play New Hampshire, an organization charged with encouraging young people to remain in or return to the state, debuted. There has also been a Governor’s Task Force on Young Worker Retention and a Governor’s Millennial Advisory Council, all tasked with pretty much the same job. Some good has come from their efforts, but not enough to alter two startling statistics.

Roughly 60 percent of New Hampshire high school graduates who go on to college do so out of state, the highest percentage in the nation. Some come back, but most don’t.

In 2018, when a survey was conducted on behalf of Stay Work Play, more than half of the young people interviewed were planning to leave the state or considering doing so. That’s bad news for the second oldest state in the nation – and bad news for companies desperate to hire the employees they need to grow and expand.

Those striving to recruit and retain a young workforce largely agree on the barriers to doing so. High housing costs are perhaps the biggest impediment, followed by high student debt and wages that are generally lower than those in bigger urban areas. There’s also a critical mass problem. A surprisingly high number of young professionals, 21 percent, report having no nearby friends, according to the survey. That’s an incentive to move to a place crowded with young people. Think Boston.

In January, Will Stewart, executive director of Stay Work Play, announced that his organization decided it was time to advocate on behalf of the state’s 441,000 residents between the ages of 18 and 44 and lobby legislators.

One of their goals should be to end New Hampshire’s status as the state that usually spends the least to support its public university system. It also should work to change New Hampshire’s status as the state whose students graduate with the highest average level of debt, and the University of New Hampshire’s status as the public four-year school with the highest in-state tuition in the country.

Crushing student loan payments provide a strong incentive to seek the higher pay available in major urban areas.

Gov. Chris Sununu’s budget calls for a state payment to the university system of $81 million, the sixth year of flat funding and a budget cut when factored for inflation.

In 2017 the university system, with the help of thousands of donors, responded to shrinking state support by creating Granite Guarantee. The program provides free tuition for any in-state student at its Durham and Manchester campuses who are recipients of a federal Pell Grant, which assists low-income families with undergraduate education costs. This year more than 800 UNH students are attending school tuition free.

Most Pell Grants, however, go to families with a household income under $30,000, though families with incomes up to $60,000 may get some aid. The median household income in New Hampshire in 2017 was $73,381 according to the Census Bureau. A vast gap exists between the high end and low end of the scale. Hampton Falls placed first with a household income of $129,531 and Bow 14th at $100,274; Concord was 154th at $61,310 and Franklin 216th at $48,398.

Thank you to all the UNH alums and other donors whose gifts made the Granite Guarantee program possible, but your gifts shouldn’t absolve the state of its responsibility to adequately fund its higher education system. It’s the middle-class who are getting killed by high education costs and their children who are struggling to start their work life under the burden of a giant debt.




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