Advocates lobby for tuition freeze in budget battle
Published: Tuesday, February 5, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 16:02
For in-state students, a collective sigh of relief brews—the budget process is underway to obtain a two-year tuition freeze for students from the Granite State. The University System of New Hampshire works with the major colleges in New Hampshire to make college more affordable for students. Four schools are part of the system: Keene State College, Granite State College, Plymouth State University, and UNH. Every year, USNH contributes $2 million to the economy in support of the workforce, i.e., for graduates. The goal is to create opportunities for students and to keep the schools, students and state economically prosperous.
Supporters of a tuition freeze have formed advocacy councils for UNH students. Mica Stark, special assistant to the president for Government Relations and Strategic Initiatives at UNH, works with the UNH Works Advocacy Council “to build support for our efforts to restore state funding to 2010 levels and freeze tuition for our in-state students.” According to Stark, over 1,300 alumni, parents, and students have signed up to support UNH Works.
Lawmakers cut funding to UNH by 49 percent in 2011, the single largest state budget cut to higher education in American history. New Hampshire support for higher education has never been strong; New Hampshire was already last in per capita state support before the budget cut.
Doug and Stella Scamman, active in the UNH community for 50 years, are former legislators. Stella has served as a trustee and Doug Scamman has been a member of the Alumni Advisory Board. The Scammans remarked in a phone interview that the ultimate goal of the project is to “work together, stay organized and get the message across.”
“We want to be efficient,” Doug Scamman said. “We’re trying to pull UNH alum and advocates together to support what we’re after. The people who are on the council and who are working together—we’re asking them to reach out to Concord.”
The governor and budget offices are preparing to deliver the message to legislators by Feb. 15.
“The results of this process will help determine if future tuitions can be kept at the current rate,” Doug Scamman said. “The governor is working on her proposal now. After her presentation, the house will write and pass a budget to the Senate with her proposal. This will be after much work by the Finance Committee. Then the Senate goes through the same process. All three of these entities must listen and consider all the requests from all of the departments in the state.”
Parts of the state economy may change to support the project. The governor may have to increase other taxes such as taxes on tobacco products. For those who crinkle their brow at the mention of higher taxes, Doug Scamman said there would not be sales or income taxes anytime soon, as adopting those particular taxes would kill the economy and push people out of the state.
Peter Powell, a member of the Advocacy Council who supports and helps enhance funds for the project, said that the need for tuition adjustments affects the entire state economy. When colleges in New Hampshire aren’t affordable, there is an “exodus of young people, lack of opportunity, and the state has problems to attract employment and commerce.”
“We need to strengthen the environment for young people by providing higher education,” Powell said. “Young people will go where they can find the greatest opportunity and experience.”
For the many students who attend four-year colleges, a two-year freeze would help their financial situations.
“Our goal is to keep UNH affordable and accessible, as well as preserve our role in driving the state’s economy and developing the talent, research and innovation that benefit all in New Hampshire,” Stark said. “We think a two-year tuition freeze is a realistic goal. We have taken major steps to control costs and raise revenue, but legislative decisions directly impact the prices that New Hampshire families pay.”
Annually, UNH brings $1.4 billion to the state’s economy. Stark said that “through its partnerships with private businesses, (UNH) creates or saves hundreds of jobs each year and helps thousands of small businesses get started, meet payroll and succeed.”
“We need students to be engaged in this effort, to contact their state lawmakers,” Stark said.
Those who want to know more about UNH Works or to sign up to be an advocate can go to www.unh.edu/works.