The Hippo


May 25, 2020








Frozen assets
Tuition freeze nudges enrollment back up


 How much should the state government contribute to the costs of higher education for in-state students attending public colleges and universities? It’s a question New Hampshire has been trying to answer for years. 

“It used to be an assumption the states would cover 70 percent of the cost of going to school and their support would mean the difference between what schools charged for in- and out-of-state tuition,” said Sara Jayne Steen, Plymouth State University president. “Right now for us that’s at about 8 percent.”
For the 2012-2013 fiscal year the University System of New Hampshire’s operating budget was cut by 49 percent. It was the largest public funding cut in U.S. history.
About half of that cut was restored for FY 2014-2015, which was enough to allow USNH to freeze in-state tuition for students enrolled at  public universities at the 2012-2013 rate. 
Now the trustees have approved a budget request asking to restore more funding and freeze in-state tuition for students enrolled at public universities for another two years. That would mean four consecutive years of no cost increases, unprecedented in New Hampshire.
“It was a very easy decision for the board to make,” said Dr. Todd Leach, chancellor of USNH. “The affordability issue has long been a real priority for the board. … [When funding was cut] there were very real state budget issues, but I think the affordability issue of higher education probably was not as visible as it is now.” 
That’s good news, higher education authorities say, not just for in-state students but for the future of the state’s economy.
“I think it’s also become more of an important agenda for businesses in general to see there is a strong higher education system in state,” Leach said.
Freeze appreciation
In-state tuition has reached a “threshold of affordability” — paying tuition has become extremely difficult, according to Leach.  
This fall, UNH Durham students are paying $13,670, and Keene and Plymouth State students will pay $10,410 for tuition alone. UNH Manchester students will pay $556 per credit hour and students at Granite State College will pay $285 per credit hour. 
The 2012-2013 budget cut pushed tuition costs up and resulted in an almost immediate decrease in in-state enrollment, Leach said. When the state restored some of its funding and the freeze was established, enrollment shot up again.
“I know the degree to which [students] were excited and grateful,” Steen said. “It’s important they know the degree to which their state is trying to support them, because these are students who, in many cases, will want to live and work here.”
At UNH Durham, the freeze was a major factor in securing the highest freshman enrollment to date, coming in this fall — nearly 3,400 students have enrolled, a 7-percent increase from the previous fall. 
In order for the tuition freeze to continue, USNH’s budget needs to be approved by the state in September. 
“If anything is very clear, [it’s that] we need to continue to push very hard on access and affordability,” said Pamela Diamantis, USNH board of trustees chair. “And the state is a real partner in this. It still comes down to state funding.”
Affordability and efficiency 
As USNH works to secure more public funding, it’s also combating tuition woes by identifying efficiencies and restraining cost. 
In 2012, the system switched to self-insured health care, which has led to a reduction of administrative costs and allowed it to negotiate discounts with insurance and prescription providers. 
“We have had good success with wellness programs and have been able to keep healthcare costs down,” Leach said. “That model has saved 10 million and cuts out the middle man.”
USNH has also cut costs by centralizing services so they are not being duplicated on all four campuses. The treasury, human resources department and purchasing have all been centralized. It has also been looking into energy-efficiency strategies and how to leverage online offerings to reduce delivery costs.   
According to Diamantis, one of the most exciting developments is a sort of build-your-own-experience approach to higher education, which allows students to find fluid pathways between community colleges and public universities in order to cut tuition costs.
“Students can say, ‘I’m going to take a look at what a four-year residential experience looks like.’ Then they can step back and say, ‘What if I did first my first two years at a community college,’ and, ‘Oh, by the way, maybe I could live at home those first two years.’ So I think it’s empowering students to make real conscious decisions about how they obtain education,” Diamantis said. 
In the fall, prospective students will be able to fill out dual applications — they’ll be able to check off boxes for the universities, colleges and community colleges they are interested in applying to so they’ll be able to easily switch from one to another. 
There are also “co-locations” at six of the seven community colleges. At least one of the universities has a physical presence at them. 
“So students can then just continue their work,” Diamantis said. 
Most recently, a program was created to address a new Affordable Care Act requirement that all nurses have their bachelor’s degrees. Community college nursing students can now gain their initial experience at those colleges, then automatically transfer to a four-year institution without a change in tuition. 
Attracting out-of-staters 
“The system has managed to stay competitive with other states. … Fortunately, all our campuses have been extremely well-managed,” Diamantis said. “The  operating cut really cut deepest to our in-state students.”
The funding dilemma hasn’t affected out-of-state tuitions, which is good news, considering those students, not the state, are the single largest source of funding. 
“What we see with students is that what’s most important is value,” Leach said. “What are they getting for their dollar? They have to perceive the value as one where they’re getting a lot for their money.”
One of the strongest measures the state has to attract out-of-staters is that student loan default rates are the lowest in the nation. At UNH, the default rate is 1 percent. Granite State College has a 2.9-percent default rate.  
That means students coming out of New Hampshire universities are getting jobs fast and succeeding after donning the cap and gown. 
“It’s something we should be proud of in New Hampshire,” Leach said.  
As seen in the July 24, 2014 issue of the Hippo.

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