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Sunday, June 29, 2014

USNH board proposes freezing in-state tuition for two more years

CONCORD – In-state tuition would be frozen for another two years throughout the University System of New Hampshire, making it the first state school system in the country to freeze tuition for four straight years, under a proposal OK’d by the board of trustees on Friday.

The request is dependent on state funding and must be approved by the Legislature before it would be finalized by USNH trustees in September. ...

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CONCORD – In-state tuition would be frozen for another two years throughout the University System of New Hampshire, making it the first state school system in the country to freeze tuition for four straight years, under a proposal OK’d by the board of trustees on Friday.

The request is dependent on state funding and must be approved by the Legislature before it would be finalized by USNH trustees in September.

“This unprecedented step would encourage more New Hampshire students to pursue higher education opportunities in the Granite State,” board Chairwoman Pamela Diamantis said in a statement released by USNH.

The system, which includes UNH branches in Durham and Manchester, Keene State and Plymouth State, and Granite State College for adult students, froze tuition for in-state students a year ago after a long tussle with legislators
over state funding for higher education. In 2011, the Legislature, then dominated by the GOP, cut state support for the system in half; when the Democratic-dominated House reinstated the funding in 2013, the board of trustees froze in-state tuition.

Affects of the freeze are already apparent, officials said. The state saw more than a 6 percent increase for in-state students over the last year, from 1,368 to 1,454.

UNH will host its largest incoming class next fall, with 3,400 first-year students.

In New Hampshire, in-state students face the highest average tuition rates in the country, at $14,576.

Students who graduate from New Hampshire colleges have an average debt load of $32,698, the second highest in the country, according to the Project on Student Debt.

Chancellor Todd Leach noted a possible silver lining to the amount of debt held by New Hampshire’s college graduates.

“We have among the highest student debt load in the country … and we have the lowest default rates in the country, ” said Leach.

This indicates New Hampshire students must be securing steady employment, he said.

“It really speaks to the quality of the institutions,” he said.

New Hampshire lags behind other states in financial support to higher education. The average state support for public higher education around the country in 2013 was 51 percent of the total cost, while New Hampshire provided less than 10 percent.

In addition to the tuition plan, trustees approved two major construction projects to upgrade facilities and attract new students: A new residence hall at Keene State College and the construction of UNH West Stadium on the Durham campus.

Trustee Tim Riley said the Keene State residence hall would fulfill the school’s need for more housing.

“It’s an important way to attract new students,” he said.

Trustees approved the schematic design and expect to spend up to $32 million on the new residence hall. Tax-exempt bonds issued through the New Hampshire Health and Education Facilities Authority will fund the project.

The West Stadium’s design concept was approved, along with its $25 million budget. Gifts totaling $5 million, plus up to $20 million in internal borrowing for a term of 20 years, will fund the stadium.

The athletic complex will replace Cowell Stadium and will have more seating and broadcast capabilities.

Appropriation increases in the 2016-17 operating budget that were approved Friday include two types of scholarships. One would be for students focusing on science-related majors, and the other would equalize tuition on defined workforce programs within the community college system.

“For the state, we think that these three priorities would have the highest impact,” Leach said.

Granite State College hosted the meeting at The Gateway Center.

GSC President Roxanne Gonzales said the school plans to prioritize online education to remain competitive with schools that have large and well-publicized online degree programs, such as Southern New Hampshire University and Arizona State University.

“This is not a time in higher education where you can stop,” she said. “We’ve got to scale up in numbers.”

Material from The Associated Press was used in this article.