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Saturday, June 23, 2012

Report: UNH contributes $1.4 billion to state economy each year, up $100 million from 2009

The University of New Hampshire contributes more than $1.4 billion to the state economy every year, an increase of $100 million from 2009, according to a new report collected by the university.

UNH President Mark Huddleston presented the data to members of the media Friday at the headquarters of Albany International Corp. in Rochester.

He said the numbers show how crucial higher education is to the workforce in New Hampshire.

“It’s absolutely integral to the lifeblood of the state,” Huddleston said. “We need to be able to train and educate young people to step into those workforce roles.”

The $1.4 billion figure amounts to about 2.3 percent of the state’s total $62 billion economy, according to the report. That figure is significant and in line with the impact of some of New Hampshire’s largest employers, said Josh Stillwagon, a doctoral student in economics at UNH who prepared the report.

Stillwagon calculated that UNH contributes $791 million through revenue generation, employment and expenditures and $642 million for its contribution to the state’s skilled workforce.

Huddleston was quick to use the report as a barb to state legislators, who cut the University System of New Hampshire budget in half in 2010 – at a time when New Hampshire colleges and universities already received the lowest state funding in the nation.

“It’s a hell of a return on investment for the state of New Hampshire, given the state funding level,” Huddleston said. “For an investment of just $35 million a year, the state is seeing more than $1.4 billion in return.”

The state cuts forced considerable tuition hikes at UNH and other state institutions. New Hampshire graduates bear the heaviest average debt burden in the country – an average debt of $31,048, according to The Project on Student Debt released in 2011.

The new economic data doesn’t rationalize the tuition increases, Huddleston said, but instead shows how important higher education is to New Hampshire and why it must become more affordable and accessible.

“I don’t think it’s possible to ease concerns about rising tuition,” he said. “It’s something I’m concerned about on a daily basis. Rather, it’s a report that underscores the fundamental value of the institution.

“If New Hampshire is going to be successfully competing in the 21st century, technology-based economy, it’s not going to happen without a strong and viable higher education system. If we want our state to turn into a burger-flipping, car-washing kind of economy, I guess we can ignore higher ed.”

Huddleston said the report will help when he talks to local businesses, state legislators and communities throughout the state about the importance of UNH and higher education.

The study used the “most conservative assumptions you could possibly bring to bear” in its calculations, Huddleston said, so the impact is likely to be even higher than $1.4 billion.

Stillwagon made the report as an update to the original data collected in 2009, when the university’s annual impact was calculated to be $1.3 billion.

The $100 million increase in two years is significant given the slow-recovering recession, Huddleston said.

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