Citizens, business leaders urge state to restore USNH budget
By longstanding tradition, New Hampshire lawmakers expect to hear from the UNH officials when they work on a new state budget. But this year, lawmakers are also hearing from voters, business owners and opinion leaders from across the state who are sending a clear message to Concord: It’s time to restore state support for our four-year public universities and colleges.
They are part of a new and growing grassroots campaign, UNH Works, that calls on lawmakers to restore state support for UNH and others schools in the University System of New Hampshire (USNH) back to 2010 levels. If the budget is restored, USNH trustees have agreed to freeze tuition for in-state students and to increase student financial aid.
To date, nearly 1,500 alumni, parents, partners and friends of UNH have signed up to be “UNH Advocates” pledging to reach out to state lawmakers and rally public support to keep UNH affordable and accessible.
“We’re seeing a real groundswell of support for public funding of higher education across the state,” said Mica Stark, UNH director of government relations. “And it’s gratifying to see the momentum continues to build. It really shows that people in New Hampshire understand the vital role that public higher education plays in supporting the state’s economy and quality of life.”
In 2010, the Legislature cut state support for UNH by nearly 50 percent. The state is dead last in the nation in per capita support for public higher education (just 6 percent of the UNH budget comes from state support). Even if state support is doubled from current levels, however, New Hampshire would remain last.
“Independent experts who study New Hampshire's economy, demographics and policy say that New Hampshire must invest in higher education to remain competitive with other states and to promote sustainable growth,” said UNH President Mark W. Huddleston. He noted that while the state contributes about $35 million a year to UNH, the University generates $1.4 billion in economic activity in New Hampshire each year.
Public support for higher education was a leading issue in campaigns for statewide offices leading up to the November elections, and it remains a front-burner issue as the Gov. Maggie Hassan and the Legislature craft the next two-year budget. In her inaugural address to the Legislature, Hassan said public support for higher education should be a top priority.
“We have the fourth highest in-state tuition for public universities in the country and too many of our talented students pursue a college education elsewhere,” Hassan said. “When these New Hampshire natives complete school, they often choose not to return, depriving our economy of talented people with the energy and skills needed to drive innovation.”
Joseph Morone, president and chief executive officer of Albany International Corp., says research shows that a strong higher education system is crucial in creating the jobs of the future. “If technology is going to be a central part of the New Hampshire advantage then business needs to have the talent, and to have the talent we must have a strong university system,” Morone said. “It really is that simple.”
The UNH Works website features a financial report detailing how UNH manages its budget, an economic impact report, highlights of UNH’s return on investment to the state, and an interactive map showing the reach of UNH alumni and students across New Hampshire.