NH’s class dunce status not shocking
If states were awarded diplomas for helping students afford a quality college education, New Hampshire would be far from the class valedictorian.
No speeches would be given by the state where costs are high, scholarships are nonexistent and state aid to higher education is treated like a slush fund to balance the state budget.
As a matter of fact, New Hampshire would be dead last in the class – the worst of all 50 states – in providing an affordable higher education to its students.
It shouldn’t be.
Our college affordability grades have been so bad for so long, we simply accept them and do little to raise them.
Let’s look at the valedictorian of the states: Utah.
There, students graduate from college with an average debt load of $17,227. The annual in-state cost to attend the state’s flagship public university is $20,184.
Here, students graduate from college with nearly double that debt load, averaging $32,440, and attending the University of New Hampshire costs $26,850 a year for in-state students.
While these average debt figures include private as well as public colleges, the numbers underscore the growing rift between lawmakers and higher education officials in the state.
And mark our words, these reports are going to get a lot worse before they get better because today’s students are borrowing even more than their predecessors.
Last year, the Legislature cut the funding to the University System of New Hampshire in half, a $50 million-a-year hack. It was considered one of the largest in the nation’s history and further lowered our worst-in-the-nation support for higher education.
On top of the budget cuts, legislators suspended all state-funded scholarship programs.
That’s a key difference between honor students like Utah, and the class flunky, New Hampshire.
“I don’t believe there is any other state in the nation that has no funding for any scholarships for any student,” said New Hampshire College and University Council President Tom Horgan.
And there’s plenty of blame to go around.
When budgets were fatter, university officials kept on spending. Rather than lower or freeze tuition then, they kept raising the cost of attendance – constructing more buildings, and raising their pay.
In the past 20 years, the cost for New Hampshire families to send their children to a state school has tripled. At the same time, the median income for families has risen about 23 percent.
The main criticism directed at university officials from state lawmakers is they haven’t done enough to cut their own expenses. University officials say they are running on fumes, but we know there’s room for savings in a USNH budget that’s three-quarters of a billion dollars a year.
Both sides contributed to this problem and both should contribute to the solution. Horgan acknowledged as much.
“We can’t just point to the Legislature and say, ‘They didn’t give us any money and so now students are in debt,’?” he said. “I think there has to be an honest conversation about what is the state’s obligation to residents to help them achieve a college education, and what the university system’s obligation is.”
To the university system, we repeat, cut your budgets further, and eliminate non-essential programs and services. Show that you are capable of the tough decisions that people in the private sector make every day.
To the members of this Legislature and the next, do everything you can to increase funding to the university system, and restore funds for scholarships. Freezing tuition for two years would be nice, but that’s not enough. If we don’t improve, we deserve to be the class dunce.