Our Turn: Hasty high ed merger is dangerous

Published: 3/20/2021 8:20:51 AM

This is an open letter to our honorable senators and representatives:

We, the undersigned former trustees of the University System of New Hampshire and/or the Community College System of New Hampshire, have serious concerns regarding the hasty proposal to merge the USNH and CCSNH boards and governance structures.

We believe merger of these two boards and governance functions will result in a consolidation that will negatively impact the effectiveness of both of our vital higher education enterprises.

Any consolidation of these two distinctly different educational systems deserves to be examined thoroughly, with all stakeholders involved in the study and development of any recommendations for change.

It is important to recognize that the University and Community College systems have developed very differently due to their histories and distinctively different missions. New Hampshire has a long tradition of underfunding public higher education, but the fiscal and policy independence accorded in the statutes has allowed and encouraged an entrepreneurial culture that has greatly enhanced the quality of education, research and service to the state. We are deeply concerned about the potential for loss of the fiscal and policy autonomy that has undergirded the systems’ pursuit of excellence down through the years.

We strongly recommend these actions:

■ Removal of the Governor’s proposal to merge the board of USNH and CCSNH from House Bill 2. The provision is framed as simply a budget action, but it is clearly far more.

■Establishment of a commission composed of legislative, executive and public members to thoroughly study this subject with a charge to report any appropriate legislative initiatives in time for consideration by the 2022 session of the General Court.

Public higher education in New Hampshire reaches every citizen, community and sector of our state’s economy. Our higher education systems affect 56,000 students, thousands of employees and host communities throughout the state. Public higher education drives the educational, economic and cultural vitality of New Hampshire. The radical changes proposed in House Bill 2 deserve a thorough and comprehensive review, which is owed to our students, citizens and communities.

(This letter is signed by Cotton Cleveland, New London; George Epstein, Conway; Betty Hoadley, Concord; Paul J. Holloway, Rye; Andy Lietz, Rye; Lorraine Merrill, Stratham; Carol Perkins, Plymouth; Stephen Reno, Hampton; John Rist, Manchester; Stella Scamman, Stratham; Steve Taylor, Meriden; and Jim Yakovakis, York, Maine.)


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