Sununu pitches community college, university system merger

  • In this photo taken Wednesday April 6, 2016 students walk past the historic Thompson Hall at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, N.H. The water system serving the University is among more than two dozen in New Hampshire that have exceeded the federal lead standard at least once in the last three years. (AP Photo/Jim Cole) Jim Cole

Associated Press
Published: 2/26/2021 5:28:28 PM

New Hampshire should move quickly to merge its community college and university systems, developing a solid plan within a year and implementing it soon after, Gov. Chris Sununu said Friday. But some lawmakers and school officials are wary.

Sununu, who announced his plan to combine the systems during his inaugural address last month, described it Friday to members of the House Finance Committee who are working to craft the state’s next two-year budget. Demographic shifts have left colleges across the country struggling to compete as enrollment declines, and the time is right to shake things up, he said.

“This is all about evolving our system so it doesn’t get crushed,” he said. “If you don’t do it now, if you stall and study and wait, it ain’t never gonna happen, and our two systems are going to wither on the vine, and we’re not going to be competitive. And more importantly, they’re going to keep competing against each other.”

Merging the 11 community colleges and the four four-year colleges and universities will save money, Sununu said, but the more important goal is creating a more seamless pathway for students and allowing them to easily move among the campuses. There are currently more than 100 separate agreements between the schools governing the transfer of credits and other processes, he said, which is inefficient and confusing to navigate.

“As a parent, I come at it from: I’ve got a 15-year-old and a 16-year-old,” he said. “What system is best? What system is going to provide the most pathways?”

Though Sununu insisted each campus would retain its own identity and brand, some lawmakers expressed concern.

“I’m concerned about creating a system that’s so huge, that all of a sudden we won’t have that nimbleness that we see in the community colleges, and we won’t have that sophistication that we see from the university system,” said Rep. Mary Heath, D-Manchester.

Rep. Ken Weyler, R-Kingston, said the committee traditionally has favored being more generous with funding to the community colleges because of their wide reach and ability to help more students who can’t afford four-year schools.

“Here’s the quandary I see: If we gave a batch of money to this combined thing, is UNH going to take a bigger share?” he said. “The way we did it before, we made sure that we were helping the community colleges and students who most need it.”

Susan Huard, chancellor of the community college system, said merging the two systems is a good idea that requires investigation, but her fear is that the community colleges would lose out. When a similar merger took place in Alaska decades ago, the university system initially offered community college students lower tuition but as time went on, that stopped, she said.

“Whether the stone hits the pitcher or the pitcher hits the stone, it’s bad for the pitcher,” she said, quoting a line from the musical “The Man of La Mancha.” “The community college system is the pitcher.”

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