When they teamed up to talk with 300 Salem High School freshmen this week about the importance of attending college, New Hampshire Senate President Chuck Morse and UNH President Mark Huddleston had plenty to say about grades, scholarships, financial aid and student loans. But when they recalled the daunting questions about college they faced as high schoolers, the two leaders and the ninth graders found common ground.
“It was a pretty good peek forward for me,” said David Edge, a Salem freshman interested in studying astronomy and cosmology. “I mean, I really want to go to college, but my big worry is how do I know what colleges I can get into? How much will it cost? And then, how will I pay for the loans if it’s really expensive?”
Huddleston and Morse could relate.
Huddleston, the first in his family to attend college, said he grew up knowing few adults who had any education beyond high school. And even though he was a good student, he remembers wondering, "Am I smart enough for college? What colleges could I go to? Will I fit in? How would I ever pay for it?"
“Finally, even if I could cobble together the money to pay the bills, is it worth it? Is it worth spending that much money to go to college?” said Huddleston, who credits public higher education with providing his only realistic, affordable path to college.
Morse, who grew up in Salem, said he devoted so much energy to sports in high school that he graduated without any real goals for college or a career. But after a few years of working in low-wage jobs, he realized the value of education and enrolled in Plymouth State University. He has gone on to manage and start several large, successful garden centers.
“I certainly didn’t think about whether I was going to college,” Morse said of his high school years. “Because, like many of you, there were challenges along the way. My parents certainly couldn’t afford to send me there. There was no way.”
Morse and Huddleston visited Salem High School to encourage more students to consider education beyond high school and to learn about options that can make college more affordable, including merit scholarships, financial aid and student loans. Increasing the number of college graduates in New Hampshire, they added, is also vital to filling a growing shortage of highly skilled workers in the state’s fastest growing industries.
Huddleston noted that graduates of four-year colleges and universities are far more likely to be employed and, over the course of their working lives, will earn $1 million more than workers with only a high school diploma.
“In our great state of New Hampshire, one of our real bragging points is that we have the best high school graduation rate in the country. We lead the nation. That’s a great statistic,” Huddleston said. “But here’s another statistic: New Hampshire is somewhere in the middle of the pack when it comes to those same students going on to college. Now, that’s a statistic that really worries me, and should worry all of us, because we live in a world now where college is the new high school, where you really have to get some kind of education after you go to high school if you really want to succeed in this highly competitive world.”
Morse credited UNH for creating the Granite Guarantee program, which will provide free tuition to New Hampshire residents who receive need-based federal Pell Grants. Nearly 300 incoming students are expected to benefit from the program, which begins this coming fall and continues indefinitely.
“My goal, and Mark’s goal, is to make sure there’s a job for you when you graduate from college in New Hampshire,” Morse said.
In an interview with the Eagle-Tribune following the event, Morse said state government should also step up with scholarships that help New Hampshire students.