UNH Sets the Bar High for Efficiency, Quality
UNH isn't alone among public universities grappling with a new norm of shrinking state support, rising costs, and increased competition. But UNH may be unique in setting a frugal example that others can follow.
Even before the state legislature cut its support by nearly 50 percent this year—or $32.5 million—UNH had a track record of delivering top-notch education and research on leaner budgets than its peers, says UNH Provost John Aber. "The bottom line is that we're very cost efficient, and the quality of what we do is very high," Aber says.
Aber is at the forefront of the University's efforts to address a new era of budget challenges, recently outlined in the President's State of the University remarks and a letter announcing a University-wide Budget Forum held October 13.
The fact is, UNH is already one of the leanest public universities in the region, and the nation.
"Our average cost per credit hour delivered is 75 percent of the average for our comparators," Aber says. "And our graduates perform better than 84 percent of colleges in a test of 'value added' student learning when they graduate."
Yet for all its trademark efficiency, UNH also delivers high-quality education and is ranked in the top 5-10 percent nationally in graduation performance by US News and World Report. (The graduation performance rating is the 6-year graduation rate normalized against the expected rate based on resource availability and the characteristics of incoming students).
"How do we do this? Our faculty and staff work hard and work well together. It's part of our culture to work efficiently with a real emphasis on entrepreneurship," Aber says.
The University's traditions of frugality and excellence, however, also make the current budget challenge harder to meet, says Aber, because the options for raising new revenues and cutting costs are already limited. Tuition, for instance, can't be increased substantially without pushing the cost out of reach for many families. And keeping UNH affordable and accessible to working families is critical here, where most students receive some form of need-based financial aid and about 30 percent of students are the first generation in their families to attend college.
A survey of UNH students this year revealed the top five reasons they enroll here: The availability of financial aid, overall cost, quality of academic major, overall comfort and feel, and campus facilities.
UNH administrators are also working to absorb the state budget cut without hurting the quality of education, research, or service to the state's communities.
In his State of the University remarks in September, President Mark W. Huddleston outlined progress in increasing online course offerings, boosting the number of international students, growing enrollment in majors that have the capacity, and increasing attendance in January term classes. All have the potential to increase revenues. University Advancement has also entered the planning phase of a major capital campaign that is expected to help the University build a more sustainable financial footing in the years to come.
Steps already taken to reduce expenses include benefits cuts, a hiring freeze and salary freeze for non-unionized workers, and a voluntary separation incentive plan. The University also plans to eliminate at least 150 positions, although the final number won't be known until the fiscal year's budget process is wrapped up in the coming months.
"As we resolve our budget challenges, we me must focus first and foremost on maintaining and strengthening the academic experience and quality for our students," Aber says.