NH University System looks for help in the Senate

New Hampshire University System calls on Senate Finance to help restore cuts made in the House

Associated Press

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) -- The University System of New Hampshire says it needs the state to be a better partner if it's going to keep tuition down and reverse the perception among students and guidance counselors that the system is in decline.

Members of its Board of Trustees told the Senate Finance Committee on Monday they're troubled the number of in-state applicants dropped by 13 percent in the last year and by a similar drop in first-time student enrollment. Any aid they receive will go toward addressing that drop.

The university system pledged to freeze tuition in return for a larger increase in state aid dollars that Gov. Maggie Hassan included in her budget proposal. That increase was cut $12 million by the House in its budget and the trustees called on the Senate to restore those cuts.

The universities said the House cuts jeopardize their pledge to freeze tuition. Todd Leach, interim chancellor for the University System of New Hampshire, said that state aid will be split between the freeze, scholarships and keeping fees down for students struggling to cover their costs. Leach said he's still hopeful that Hassan's figures for aid can be reached, but said they are beginning to look at contingency plans in the event those numbers aren't reached.

Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Morse, a Salem Republican, said he hoped to avoid additional cuts but wasn't optimistic about the possibility of restoring the level of funding proposed by Hassan. He added that the public universities have bigger problems than a short-fall in what they had expected from the state, alluding to issues with their bonds and recent criticism of the faculty sabbatical system.

Graduates from New Hampshire's universities have the highest debt load in the country, but supporters point out that graduates have a lower than average default rate, which they say means students are finding jobs and managing to pay down their college debt.

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