Kenneth Ferreira: New program will help retain New Hampshire’s best and brightest

For the Monitor
Published: 7/21/2018 12:09:58 AM

In recent years, New Hampshire has faced a demographic double whammy that threatens the future of our state. Along with neighbors Maine and Vermont, the Granite State is among the top states with the oldest populations in the United States, but we are also the nation’s biggest exporter per capita of college-bound high school graduates who choose to attend college out of state. This is a trend that is not sustainable for us in the long run.

This despite the fact that N.H. is home to many of the brightest high school students in America and to some of the finest public and private colleges and universities.

For those who share my concern – and that of many others across the state – there is some good news.

Starting this fall, hundreds of recent high-school grads from New Hampshire’s cities, towns and rural areas who have decided to stay in state to pursue post-secondary learning will be the recipients of financial support via the new Governor’s Scholars Program. These grants consider a student’s level of need and academic preparedness and represent an investment in both.

Much has been written about the long-term impact of New Hampshire’s “brain drain” and “silver tsunami” producing pressure on health care, services and housing while reducing the number of N.H. residents who can contribute amid an aging population and ongoing need to support our infrastructure. Indeed, the just-launched Governor’s Scholars Program is one that deserves our support and attention as one thoughtful initiative aimed at keeping and attracting the best and the brightest young adults.

Gov. Sununu’s office and the N.H. Office of Strategic Initiatives worked together with the input and support of many others on the development of the program, the final rules for which were passed by the Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules in June. The new program is critical to the strategic retention of N.H. college students and is a step in the right direction to encourage more college-age residents to complete their studies right here in New Hampshire. It represents a wise investment of approximately $4 million per year in our young people who have grown up here and increases the chances that they will become well educated, ready for the workplace, and that they will choose to stay and make their lives here.

The program is designed to provide financial assistance to eligible recent high school graduates who demonstrate high need (eligible for a Federal Pell Grant) and strong academic achievement, choosing to study at participating N.H. colleges and universities.

Unlike N.H. UNIQUE funds (a tax-advantaged 529 plan), governor’s scholarships are funded via state-appropriated funding and are guaranteed from one year to the next, so long as the student is eligible. Scholarships range from $1,000 to $2,000 annually for students pursing a bachelor’s degree.

Currently, students who attend post-secondary education in our state receive more than $750 million in federal financial assistance. While all of the other New England states have some sort of state grant program, the absence of one in New Hampshire has been felt by students since the New Hampshire Incentive Grant was eliminated in 2011. There are many cases where an extra $1,000 or $2,000 will make it possible for a young New Hampshire resident to choose to attend one of our own public or private colleges rather than move (and perhaps then decide to stay) somewhere out of state.

There is no question: We need young people to build their lives here in New Hampshire to fill the jobs of expanding professional fields, contribute to the tax base and to be part of the state’s innovative and vibrant economy. What an incredible opportunity it is for needy and academically qualified students to have access to college via this worthwhile investment that is both forward-thinking and strategic, for providing access to college students translates into investments in our state’s future and our continued economic prosperity.

(Kenneth Ferreira, a financial aid administrator for more than 20 years, is the associate vice president for student financial services at Franklin Pierce University in Rindge and is the current president of the volunteer-operated New Hampshire Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.)

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