Students, Parents, Alumni Bring Appeal to State House
Advocates Unite for Restoring State Support
A UNH student from Manchester whose parents were unemployed her last two years of high school. A couple from Alstead whose family debt will far exceed their home mortgage if they help their two children pay for college. A one-time college dropout who earned a college degree late in his career and became New Hampshire’s top homeland security official.
Packing a state Senate hearing on Tuesday, they added their personal stories to the growing number of students, parents, alumni and business leaders who are urging lawmakers to restore support for New Hampshire’s public universities and colleges.
“It’s not just my story. It’s the story of thousands of students like me all over New Hampshire,” said Ali Fortin, a UNH junior whose family struggled after both her parents were laid off when she was in high school. Fortin, a biomedical sciences pre-med major, said the substantial student loans she relies on to attend UNH will be a burden as she pursues her dream of attending medical school and becoming a pediatrician. “I just want our lawmakers to know that students like me live right down the street from them. I mean, who knows? I might be a pediatrician for their own grandchildren someday.”
Fortin and her parents are among more than 2,300 New Hampshire citizens who have signed on to be advocates for USNH. Advocates are also being encouraged to attend a series of public hearings on the budget being held across the state by the House Finance Committee now through March 18.
Sen. Martha Fuller Clark, a Portsmouth Democrat, sponsored a bill that was heard by the Senate Finance Committee. It calls for full restoration of state support for the University System of New Hampshire (USNH) and the Community College System of New Hampshire (CCSNH). Fuller Clark noted that New Hampshire is last in the nation for public support of higher education, resulting in high tuition rates that are prompting many New Hampshire students to leave the state or give up college.
“Due to the high cost of in-state tuitions at both the university level and the community college level, many students are leaving the state to seek higher education elsewhere, and then do not return or simply decide they cannot afford to seek higher education after all,” she said.
After state support for USNH was cut nearly 50 percent in 2011, the subsidy for each student dropped to less than $600. Ten years ago, it was more than $4,000. Todd Leach, interim USNH chancellor, said overall state support for USNH is the same as it was in 1988.
Larry Haynes, president and CEO of the Grappone Automotive Group in Concord, said he’s among many business leaders who believe that high in-state tuitions and a shrinking demographic of college-aged students in New Hampshire are making it harder for employers to find qualified workers for high-skilled jobs.
“In this technical, fast-paced and complicated world that we live in today, we as businesses need smart and capable students graduating from local institutions to fill our quickly changing workforce landscape,” said Haynes, a Plymouth State University alumnus. “As a business leader in New Hampshire, I’m concerned about both the short- and long-term negative effects that we will suffer in this state without both a vibrant university system and community college system.”
Former Homeland Security Chief Chris Pope testified that the state’s two- and four-year public institutions are also vital tools for mid-career workers who are seeking to build their job skills and advance in their careers. Pope dropped out of college one year after graduating from high school in 1975, and didn’t consider it again until he had spent more than 20 years as a firefighter. Enrolling in Granite State College, he earned his bachelor’s degree and became the city of Concord’s fire chief.
He then went on to earn his master’s degree and became New Hampshire’s first director of homeland security and emergency management in 2006, retiring from that post last November.
Sue and Steve Fortier, of Alstead, who have two children attending Keene State College, also testified, saying that they fear high in-state tuition rates are discouraging to in-state students and families who will face staggering student debt loads.
“Our family is one of thousands that’s been negatively effected by the historic cuts made by the previous legislature,” said Steve Fortier, a Keene State alumni. “Our two children are now on the path to be among those New Hampshire graduates who are leaving college with the highest level of student debt in the country.”
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