USNH’s tuition freeze offer is good for NH’s future

New Hampshire Union Leader, September 29, 2014

THE KEY to a vibrant New Hampshire economy is the ability for our business community to have a highly educated and trained workforce. At the same time, New Hampshire families depend on having access to high quality and affordable public higher education. New Hampshire can be proud of the partnership the University System of New Hampshire has entered with business and families that bridges both of those needs. Providing that educational opportunity while freezing tuition, and even reducing tuition for many New Hampshire students, is an accomplishment our elected leaders, our business community and families can all be proud of.

Last week, the USNH Board of Trustees, all volunteers with diverse private and public backgrounds, proposed a continuation of the partnership forged with Gov. Maggie Hassan and bipartisan leaders in the state Legislature in the last biennial budget. Fueled by an outcry from the business community and families throughout New Hampshire, the last state budget partially restored the 49 percent budget cut enacted in 2012 enabling the initial two-year tuition freeze. As part of that renewed partnership, USNH trustees voted to freeze tuition for New Hampshire students for two more years.

This past year USNH received an appropriation equaling the same amount received in 2004 more than a decade ago. To place that in perspective, in 2004, gasoline was just reaching $2 a gallon! And, based on U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics data, the buying power of $100.00 in 2004 equals $125.91 in 2014, leaving no doubt that we are paying more for a variety of goods and services.

While we are proud to have a track record of highly efficient and cost-conscious operations, is it reasonable to expect our public system of higher education to provide a competitive education in 2016 with 2004 funding levels? The fact is, USNH currently receives less than 10 percent of its funding from the State of New Hampshire and ranks 50th in the nation in support of higher education on a per capita basis.

In the upcoming budget cycle, we are asking for the state’s commitment to be returned to fiscal year 2009 funding levels with a firm commitment from the Board of Trustees to use those dollars in three important areas:

Extend the tuition freeze for New Hampshire students. Making it the first time in recent history, a New Hampshire student attending the University of New Hampshire, Keene State College, Plymouth State University or Granite State College will complete their four-year degree with no tuition increase.

Provide additional critical investments and scholarships to New Hampshire students studying in STEM education fields. Those benefiting from the scholarships in earning their STEM degrees will actually see a decrease in their tuition.

Develop a first-of-its-kind New Hampshire scholarship program to benefit Community College System students assisting them in transferring to USNH institutions to further their degree work in critical workforce areas.

Our economy depends on an educated and trained workforce, and USNH institutions are focused on addressing the most pressing state workforce needs. We are also committed to administering our limited state tax dollars as efficiently as possible and are proud to be ranked at the top of all of our peer university systems in New England in controlling operational cost.

New Hampshire can be proud of our University System. Know we are committed to delivering the very best educational opportunities at the most affordable price. Our commitment remains strong to our students, their families and the business community that rely on us as partners in their future success.

Pamela Diamantis is chair of the University System of New Hampshire Board of Trustees.