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Sunday, August 12, 2012

NH gives least to higher education of any state in US, report says

For every person who lives in New Hampshire, the state contributes $63.19 to support public higher education.

Comparatively speaking, that makes New Hampshire the worst in the nation.

The state that ranks 49th, Arizona, offers nearly double what New Hampshire does, with $125.64 in state appropriations per capita.

Only 15 states contribute fewer than $200 per person to higher education, with New Hampshire lagging furthest behind, according to 2012 data collected by Illinois State University.

The University System of New Hampshire presents that argument – a lack of state funding for higher education, highlighted by a unprecedented 49 percent cut last summer – as the key reason for rising tuition costs in recent years.

University of New Hampshire President Mark Huddleston said it would take an enormous increase in state funding just for New Hampshire to climb out of the country’s cellar and into the No. 49 ranking.

“It takes money,” he said. “The folks in Concord have to be willing.”

However, the state increased its appropriation 65 percent over 15 years, from 1994-2009, and tuition costs soared.

During that period at UNH, the cost of attendance went up 147 percent for in-state students and 113 percent for out-of-state students. At Plymouth State University and Keene State College, the 15-year increases were more than 130 percent for in-state tuition and more than 100 percent for out-of-state.

The rising amount of aid, coupled with increasing tuition, made the university system a prime target for budget-cutting legislators who claimed the university system had become bloated and inefficient.

Dale Barkey, the chief negotiator for the UNH chapter of the American Association of University Professors, accused the legislature of balancing the budget on the backs of the families who are seeking higher education.

“The state is effectively pushing the cost onto the students,” he said. “That’s the most important thing to look at: Why are they doing this to the students of the state? If you want a public university where the purpose is to provide educational opportunities to the students of the state, then it should be funded.”

This fall, the “sticker price” at UNH is $26,186 for in-state students and $38,646 for out-of-staters. That includes tuition, fees, and room and board costs; it does not account for scholarships or grants.

Higher education isn’t supposed to be cheap, but it was once affordable. The investment is not such a simple dream anymore.

Annual tuition increases at New Hampshire colleges, as well as those around the country, have far outpaced the increases of family income – forcing students and parents to borrow more and carry a heavier debt burden for years after graduation.

Median income for New Hampshire families has risen about 23 percent in 20 years. During the same time span, the cost for families to send their children to a state school has increased 208 percent.

Prices have risen so high that New Hampshire college graduates in 2010 carried the highest debt load of any state in the country.

State legislators point to high administrative and faculty salaries, on top of expensive construction projects, as examples of the public universities’ out-of-control spending.

Huddleston earned $333,658.54 in 2011 – the highest-paid public employee in New Hampshire. Coaches Dick Umile and Sean McDonnell, who lead UNH’s hockey and football teams, respectively, each earned upward of $250,000 last year. In all, 18 administrators and eight faculty members at UNH took home more than $200,000 in 2011. Dozens of other professors and staff have six-figure salaries across UNH, Keene State, Plymouth State and Granite State colleges.

Still, the university system spends less than 5 percent of its budget on administrative overhead, or about $40 million of its $742 million operating expenses in 2011. And that was when the state appropriation was $100 million, before the massive cuts took effect last summer.

“We’re much more thinly staffed, administratively speaking, than any university I’ve worked at,” said Huddleston, who worked at Ohio Wesleyan University and the University of Delaware before coming to UNH in 2007. “In the five years I’ve been here, it’s only gotten leaner.”

Many higher-ups are filling two or three jobs, including Huddleston, who is also serving as UNH’s vice president of advancement until new hire Deborah Dutton takes over Sept. 1.

The university system also has put significant long-term investment into renovating old buildings and creating new ones. Since 2008, the system has funded 32 construction projects at UNH, Plymouth State and Keene State – 22 of those were at UNH.

The most expensive of those is the new Peter T. Paul College of Business and Economics, which is scheduled to open in January 2013. It was made possible by a $25 million gift, the largest in UNH history, from Peter T. Paul, but it also required UNH to spend $10 million in savings, $4 million in private gifts, and take out a $16 million, 10-year loan from the university system. The university system’s total long-term debt in 2011 was $460 million – down from $474 million in 2009.

For all the attention drawn to high salaries and new buildings, the university system spent the majority of its money in 2011 on student-focused categories.

In 2011, the four public universities spent $224 million on instruction – 89 percent was used for faculty compensation – as well as $125 million on student financial aid, $96 million on academic and student support, and $135 million on research and public services. The universities also spent $143 million on auxiliary services, which includes student housing, dining, health, recreation and transportation.

University spending has ballooned over time – including an 8 percent increase from 2010-11 – and so have revenues.

The four public universities brought in $911 million in gross revenue last year, compared to about half of that in 2001 and $250 million 20 years ago. UNH is by far the biggest contributor and accounted for 69 percent of system revenue last year. Keene State, Plymouth State and Granite State brought in 29 percent of revenue combined.

The biggest money-maker was student tuition and fees, which totaled $390 million, or 43 percent of gross revenue, in 2011. The universities also received significant revenue from grants and contracts, gifts and investment income, and sales of auxiliary services.

Despite the money coming in and attempts to find new revenue streams, education advocates maintain that New Hampshire residents also must offer help.

“I would never say there isn’t a nickel that can be found somewhere, but this was already a place of lean budgets, and now, we’re running on proverbial fumes,” Huddleston said.

The stability of the university system is not in question. Moody’s Investors Service, which offers credit ratings, gave the University System of New Hampshire one of its highest quality ratings of “Aa3” in 2011. It highlighted the university system’s steps to grow revenue and contain expenses in light of the state cuts and wrote that the system’s financial management team is strong.

But expenses will be difficult to bring down in the coming years, given the cuts already made, the growth of enrollment and a significant rise in need-based financial aid for students.

“At some point, cutting leads to nothing other than losing your ability to accomplish basic missions,” Huddleston said. “We’ve reached that point in New Hampshire.”

Cameron Kittle can be reached at 594-6523 or ckittle@nashua telegraph.com. Also, follow Kittle on Twitter (@Telegraph_CamK).