Governor’s budget proposal would allow USNH to freeze tuition for two years
Karina Barriga Albring
A budget proposal from Gov. Maggie Hassan to the legislature may allow Keene State College and other New Hampshire public colleges to freeze tuition for in-state students for the next two years.
When asked about main concerns for college students, “Tuition cost is one the issues that worries me the most,” KSC freshman Kyla Jones said.
“College is becoming more expensive every day,” junior Adam Foster said.
According to the New York Times, N.H. students have the highest debt rate upon graduation.
According to Karen House, vice president for finance and planning at KSC, the price rates at the college are relatively high compared to the rest of the country because state support is low. In fact, N.H. and Vermont have the highest average tuition at four-year colleges.
House said, “That [price] does put us in a disadvantageous position when people are looking at the price of tuition from one institution in one state to another institution in another state.”
Gov. Hassan’s budget for the next biennium would support public colleges.
When presenting her proposal to the Joint Finance Committee, Hassan stated, “Ever-rising tuition rates can force many families to avoid even considering New Hampshire’s public colleges and universities, hurting our competitiveness. If we hope to encourage job creation and innovative economic growth, we cannot keep losing our young people or fail to develop our workforce. That’s why our budget substantially restores the cuts made to our community college and university systems.”
Indeed, the Department of Institutional research at KSC indicated that 50 percent of all KSC graduates stay in the state and 84 percent of the KSC graduates from New Hampshire stay in the state.
However, House noted New Hampshire is at the bottom of the list for state support for higher education, even though other economic indicators are positive in the Granite State.
“When you look at New Hampshire’s income per person, we are not at the bottom. New Hampshire is relatively in good shape financially as a state overall, but we don’t allocate that much of that to higher education,” House said.
In-state tuition at Keene State College is currently $10,410 per year. According to KSC Interim President Jay Kahn, tuition “usually increases every year to cover costs like keeping service quality, improving faculty versus students ratios and funding special programs.”
However, this year might be the exception. House said the University System Board of Trustees has not yet established increases in tuition for in-state students for the next academic year.
Kahn also said there will be no increases in housing or student fees for the next academic year. “The only price increase students will face is the one regarding dining services,” Kahn said. If students select the new unlimited meal plan, they will pay $245 more than they pay for the 19-meal plan this year.
“In the Board of Trustees meeting in January, they established an increase of 2.8 percent in tuition for out-of-state students for the next academic year,” Kahn expressed. Out-of-state students will pay $17,795, $485 more than what they paid for this academic year.
Kahn said, “The good news is that the board of trustees is anticipating a successful legislative session in which the governor’s proposal will be approved and they will act to restore state appropriations and the subsidy for New Hampshire students attending KSC.”
The last time that public colleges in New Hampshire were able to freeze tuition was in 1989, reported USA Today.
Hassan’s proposal intends to restore 90 percent of the state appropriation for public colleges in New Hampshire. In February, after meeting with the University System, Governor Hassan submitted her proposal to the legislature. Her budget states that the University System will receive an increase of $20 million in fiscal year 14 (academic year fall 2013) with an additional increase of $15 million in fiscal year 15 (academic year fall 2014).
According to House, USNH will receive $75 million for 2014 and $90 million for 2015. She said even though the proposal doesn’t entirely restore that cut that has made in the past biennium, “It is a lot of progress.”
If the budget is approved, Keene State College as well as UNH, Plymouth State University and Granite State College have offered to freeze tuition for in-state students for the next two academic years.
Additionally, Kahn said if the proposal is approved KSC will be able to increase scholarships for in-state students. “We will be offering more need-based and merit-based aid for in-state students, so that on average, students will be paying no more than what they are paying this year,” Kahn stated.
According to the Department of Institutional Research at KSC, over 50 percent of KSC students are in-state residents and 90 percent request financial aid.
In the past two fiscal years, many states experienced budget cuts in their funding for higher education. New Hampshire’s cut was the biggest in the country. The state support was reduced in 49 percent.
House said “Before the cut, the state support to the University System was at a level of around $100 million. It came down to a little over $50 million. It was very sudden and very significant.”
House noted that the state support for higher education per capita basis in New Hampshire was already the lowest in the country before cutting it in half. She explained that prior to the cut, the support was over 13 percent of the college’s overall budget. After the cut it went down to six percent.
The cut in state appropriation meant that some federal aid programs were reduced and some state aid programs were cut entirely. Kahn said, “Since 2000 the amount of state aid per in-state student has continue to decrease, and the amount of institutional aid that needs to be awarded to students has increased dramatically.”
In fiscal years 2012 and 2013, the enrollment rate decreased in KSC. House said, “Enrollment did drop. It is very hard to know whether or how much of that was related to the cut of state support versus other reasons.”
House looked at the possibility of a misunderstanding regarding the economical situation of the public colleges in the state after the cut. “When people were talking about a 50 percent cut, we wondered if people thought that it meant a 50 percent cut in our entire budget. These may have made students who could afford it go out of state.”
House concluded, “The state support was an important amount for us, but we still have other revenues that we are using to pay our bills.”
Even though the college authorities and USNH remain optimistic about the legislature decision on the budget for the next biennium, they have considered the possibility of a negative outcome.
Kahn said that if the budget proposal is not approved, it is likely that there will be an increase in tuition for in-state students.
Kahn said he believes students involvement in the supporting the governor’s proposal is crucial.
On March 5, during the student assembly weekly meeting, Kahn recommended students to advocate in favor of Hassan’s budget proposal. He encouraged students to attend hearings that the House Finance Committee hosted in different cities in the state.
The issue on restoration remains open, since the House and the Senate might not come to a decision about until June. The outcome will take effect on July 1.
House said, “If the budget is not approved, we don’t know for sure what will happen. We are committed to try to minimize price increases for in-state residents, but we are also committed to ensure that we are running our institutions in a responsible way. We are not going to degrade the services, so that students will feel that they are paying a lot of money, but they are really not getting what they expected.”
To read more about tuition see the Equinox’s editorial on page A4.
Karina Barriga Albring can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org