Private vs. Public

Could UNH function as a private university?

By Adam J. Babinat
On November 21, 2011

The effects of the budget cuts that have afflicted the University of New Hampshire have become a major issue over the course of the semester. Students, professors, faculty, and administrators have all felt these effects at some level.

These consequences have been so severe that some have half-heartedly joked that UNH would be better off breaking away from the state of New Hampshire and becoming a private institution. This would be unprecedented, as no public university has ever completely made the switch to a private university. But how realistic is it? And could it work?

A switch like this would present a variety of different issues for the university, as many different questions would need to be answered. However, it would also provide UNH with far more flexibility in making decisions than it has within the current system.

"It [privatization] would give the university some freedom and flexibility to reduce its costs," associate professor of economics Neil Niman said.

One cost Niman is referring to is that of the University System of New Hampshire. Privatization, according to Niman, would allow UNH to rid itself of the overhead expense that is USNH and provide more flexibility with what it wants to do financially.

"You [UNH] are not free to do whatever you want. You're part of this system and this system controls what you are able to do," Niman said. "The system provides an administrative layer to ensure that the interests of the state are being met."

Yet another issue the university would need to address is the sort of commitments and goals the institution has.

Programs like Cooperative Extension, as well as other programs that accompany UNH's status as a land, sea and space grant university that assist the state of New Hampshire would be called into question, according to Niman.

"If the state says we're not going to support those [programs], does the university then continue to have that kind of commitment?" Niman said. "Is it fair to ask you [the students] to pay for those sorts of activities through your tuition?"

President Mark Huddleston stands by his commitment of maintaining the university as a public institution of higher learning. He feels that the university has a lot to offer the state, and that it is UNH's responsibility to serve the people of New Hampshire.

"While ‘going private' might, in a narrow sense, benefit UNH, it would certainly not benefit the people of New Hampshire," Huddleston said via email. "We have a historic responsibility to serve the people of this state."

Huddleston also said that the people of New Hampshire have a reciprocal responsibility to help fund the programs and services that the school provides for them. The continuing process of defunding higher education in New Hampshire will only make it more difficult for schools like UNH to achieve their public missions.

Huddleston did say that UNH could learn a lot from how private universities operate. He feels that creating a culture of philanthropy, as well as creating a structure that allows for more flexibility, could go a long way in helping UNH cope with some of these state budget cuts.

With the current financial situation of the University of New Hampshire, discussions about whether or not UNH should remain public will persist.

According to Niman, it is a topic that needs to be taken even more seriously as higher education continues to become pricier and states throughout the country cut funding.

"When the state's not putting up the money anymore, should they still be able to call the shots?" Niman said. "My guess is that the state is going to want to have its cake and eat it, too."

By Adam J.

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