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ICYMI - InDepth NH: What Is The Rush To Merge Higher Education in NH?

In Case You Missed It, InDepthNH’s Garry Rayno raised concerns about Governor Sununu’s rushed proposal to merge the University System of New Hampshire and the Community College System of New Hampshire.

Governor Sununu’s recently unveiled budget proposes combining all 11 higher education institutions in New Hampshire under one system, which experts note would require a large up-front investment to fund the enormous task of integrating systems across these institutions. However, Sununu’s budget does not invest in higher education, and instead makes a $17.6 million cut to the combined university and community college system over the next biennium.

Key points:

  • “The average working class family in New Hampshire, or in any New England state, cannot afford to pay for a college education. The result is student debt in New Hampshire and New England is some of the highest in the country.”

  • “Leaders of the community college system are hesitant to jump with both feet into the merger, fearing the system will be swallowed by the larger university system and lose its affordability and its voice.”

  • “The 11 facilities in the two systems are not businesses, they are institutions of higher education and an a la carte plan creates all kinds of issues including collective bargaining agreements, benefits and working conditions. If too few students take an art course, or a creative writing course or study theatre crafts for the institution to break even, should those courses be eliminated?”

  • “Colleges and universities serve many purposes including learning for learning’s sake and acquiring skills like critical thinking, which is so needed today. That is why the merger needs to be done right and not rushed to save a few dollars. There is much at stake. The merger will affect many people who work in public higher education, and many more people who attended one of the institutions indirectly.”

InDepthNH.org: What Is The Rush To Merge Higher Education in NH?

By Garry Rayno

February 27, 2021

[...]

The average working class family in New Hampshire, or in any New England state, cannot afford to pay for a college education.

The result is student debt in New Hampshire and New England is some of the highest in the country.

That is one problem facing higher education, a growing demand for more financial aid, and the other is fewer and fewer students are graduating from high school.

The impact of finances and demographics have been on the horizon for a while, and institutions have tried to adjust slowly without making wholesale changes, using more adjunct professors, building endowments, requiring students to live on campus longer, cutting faculty and staff or not replacing retirees. Public institutions are dependent on politicians for money and for capital support, and that is another problem.

People who attended UNH or Plymouth State University or Keene State College have an allegiance to or an affection for the institution as they play a large part in their transition from youth to adult. It is not just the academics that people remember.

The community college system has always been the poor sister to the university system but in recent years has been the cornerstone for training and retraining people for the state’s workforce for critical jobs in health care, construction and manufacturing sectors and the electronics field.

The system has always been “lean and mean” as it had to be flexible to meet the needs of the state’s business community.

That is not to say the university system does not, because it does, but at a different level like research and development.

But the community college system is a life saver for many in the state who need a little more education to find that next job or to re-train for another profession because theirs collapsed.

The two systems have moved closer together as they attempted to be more seamless for students starting at a community college and then transferring to a university institution.

Both systems are educational institutions but much more than that to the people who attend or attended them.

So when you first hear the governor wants to merge the two systems, many people’s first reaction is “No.”

Leaders of the community college system are hesitant to jump with both feet into the merger, fearing the system will be swallowed by the larger university system and lose its affordability and its voice.

The university system leaders are not quite so recalcitrant, but they too want to know more of the details and how other states have fared that combined systems, etc.

At a public hearing Friday before Division II of the House Appropriations Committee, the governor discussed his merger plans and why the change is needed immediately, but like he often does, the real details are yet to come, much like the secure psychiatric unit he wanted to build on State Hospital grounds two years ago but there were never any concrete plans.

[...]

The merger may not be about the money, but his proposed budget reduced state spending on the two systems by $17.6 million over the next biennium, not an insignificant amount of money.

[...]

Sununu tipped his hand a bit when he said, “I view this as school choice for higher education.”

[...]

The 11 facilities in the two systems are not businesses, they are institutions of higher education and an a la cart plan creates all kinds of issues including collective bargaining agreements, benefits and working conditions.

If too few students take an art course, or a creative writing course or study theatre crafts for the institution to break even, should those courses be eliminated?

Should universities eliminate their philosophy departments or English Literature degrees, or athletic programs?

Colleges and universities serve many purposes including learning for learning’s sake and acquiring skills like critical thinking, which is so needed today.

That is why the merger needs to be done right and not rushed to save a few dollars.

There is much at stake. The merger will affect many people who work in public higher education, and many more people who attended one of the institutions indirectly.

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