State schools freeze tuition for third year in a row, debt crisis still looms

Monitor staff
Published: 4/6/2021 5:22:52 PM

For the third year in a row, the University System of New Hampshire has announced that it will freeze tuition for in-state students for the next academic year.

Some costs – such as housing, meal plans and activity fees – will still increase and the freeze does not apply to out-of-state students. Still, despite three consecutive tuition freezes, the student debt crisis in the state, which is one of the worst in the country, has continued to escalate.

“This has been an incredibly challenging year in so many ways, and we continue to work to lessen the financial burden on our students and their families, many of whom have suffered job losses, business closures and other impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Cathy Provencher, Vice Chancellor of the university system.

In-state tuition is currently $15,520, while the total cost for New Hampshire students to attend the Durham campus is estimated at $34,830 a year. Out of state students pay $32,860, which will rise by about $1,000 next year, and their total cost to attend is $52,920. 

The decision to freeze in-state tuition for the next academic year was made in the face of financial challenges due to the pandemic, but student debt in New Hampshire – which has the highest debt loads and lowest public contributions to higher education – has long been an issue.

Three-quarters of the state’s college graduates left school in debt during the 2018-2019 academic year.

In that same year, the average debt load for graduates in New Hampshire was $39,410, making New Hampshire the highest among all states, according to The Institute for College Access and Success. Additionally, 40% of that debt was in private loans, which often cost more and carry fewer protections than federal loans. 

Of the schools in New Hampshire, the University of New Hampshire in Durham had one of the highest numbers for average debt – $42,246 – despite charging less than higher-costing colleges in the state such as Colby-Sawyer, Dartmouth, and St. Anselm, all of which had lower average debt among their graduates.

The total amount of debt carried by New Hampshire’s college graduates is now more than the total state budget, according to Student Loan Justice, which advocates for loan forgivenes. As of 2017, the state budget was $5.8 billion, while the total student debt was $7.7 billion.

To try to keep higher education affordable, state schools have “committed to providing significant increases in financial aid to students, reducing overall cost of attendance,” according to the university system. Since the 2016-2017 academic year, financial aid to USNH students has increased from $119 million to $161 million per year.

“Ensuring that public higher education is accessible and affordable for students is a top priority of our institutions as we continue working to serve New Hampshire and to make our colleges and universities the first choice for New Hampshire students,” Provencher said.

She said the tuition freeze would not have been possible without backing from the governor, state legislators and New Hampshire’s Congressional delegation.

“In the face of financial losses and unanticipated COVID-related expenses for the University System of New Hampshire, this tuition freeze would likely not have happened without their support,” added Provencher.

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