State funding may improve with elected legislators
The outcome of Election Day could prove beneficial for public universities across the state. With Democrats taking back control of the New Hampshire House of Representatives, state university administrators, faculty and students have reason to hope that this party change could have a significant, and positive, impact on UNH's state funding.
In 2011, the Republican-controlled New Hampshire state legislature cut state appropriations to the University of New Hampshire by approximately 50 percent, the deepest monetary cut to higher education ever levied in this country.
"Even when we Democrats were in charge, the state only kicked in about 6 percent of the University System's funding," said Timothy Horrigan, District 6 state representative in New Hampshire. "This was the lowest percentage of any state in the union."
The state cut funding in half to 3 percent in 2011, which Horrigan said was not the worst thing the party tried to do to UNH and the other state schools.
"The misguided Republican leadership insulted the university administrators and trustees at every opportunity; they constantly griped about what a burden UNH was on the taxpayers; and they tried to unilaterally push through many ill-advised policy changes, which had little or no support from students, faculty or any other stakeholders," Horrigan said.
With a strong Democratic presence restored in the state legislature, members of the UNH community could very well see the university's funding restored in the next budget.
"Democrats keeping the governor's office, regaining the House, and winning back 11 of 24 seats in the Senate should improve the outlook for UNH state funding," said Dante Scala, professor of political science and expert of New Hampshire politics and presidential politics. "Hassan, in particular, made a point about supporting the university system during the campaign."
President Mark Huddleston's office has said that one of the chief missions of a land-grant institution like UNH is to provide affordable access to quality higher education.
As a result of this, the university has worked very hard at protecting the educational experience for students, as well as implemented cost-cutting steps that include a salary freeze and benefits cuts for non-unionized employees, a hiring freeze and a separation incentive plan.
"When the state cut its support by 49 percent, UNH limited a supplemental tuition increase to $650 for in-state students," Mica Stark, special assistant to the president for government relations, said. "If in-state students and their families had been asked to make up the entire loss in state appropriation, in-state tuition would have gone up $4,650."
While the restorations of funding are the main issue at the moment, Horrigan said it is just the first step in mending the frayed relationship between the university and Concord.
"This incoming legislature needs to remember that 97 percent of USNH's current funding comes from sources other than the taxpayers, and that the university system serves many constituencies other than the legislature's leaderships," he said. "We legislators have a large role to play, but we need to stop trying to micromanage the university system's operations."
In a recent press release put out by UNH Media Relations, Steve Fortier, an Alstead resident and parent of two Keene State College students said that the financial burden caused by the slashes in funding has now been put on the parents.
"Thousands of other New Hampshire parents and I need our elected officials to provide appropriate support for the university system. In doing so, we are not asking for a handout; we are asking for an investment that strengthens our state's economy and our children's futures," Fortier said.
Tama Andrews, the graduate program coordinator for the UNH political science department, also said that a Democratic governor-elect and a Democratic majority in the house will most likely help the university for the next biennium.
Andrews said that the next legislature will have to deal with balancing the state budget, which includes coming up with spending and revenue-raising policies, but it's fair to say that legislative membership will be much more favorably disposed to restoring funding than the previous legislature membership. The biggest question she said is "how much?"
"Restoring the state support that was slashed may not be realized in full, given budget considerations, but we could expect at least an increase in state support to our university system," she said.
The university is starting a significant effort to educate legislators and Gov.-elect Maggie Hassan.
Alumni and friends of USNH have been and will be contacting the legislators and Hassan to advocate for the benefits of a state-supported university for business, government and citizens in New Hampshire, along with the money brought to the state economy from UNH research, partnerships and education of future skilled employees and innovators, according to Andrews.
Friends of USNH have joined Keene State College, the University of New Hampshire, Plymouth State University and Granite State College in advocating for the restoration of state funding. In return, the schools have offered to freeze in-state tuition for two years while increasing financial aid for priority students.
"This is a positive and politically-savvy effort by the university to educate the policy and funding decision-makers in the State House," she said.
In terms of funding being restored to USNH, the outlook appears to be more positive post Election Day for UNH and increased state support. However, even if UNH is successful, it will not be known for several months, possibly extending into late April, May or June.
"Our proposal to freeze tuition for in-state students and provide additional aid for students in need if funding is restored is a strong one," Stark said. "It helps to address affordability and access for New Hampshire families and will strengthen the state's economy."
Stark, as well as the administration, said he believes this logic will speak to all lawmakers.
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