Senate Finance Weighs Competing Plans for Higher Education Funding

The New Hampshire Senate

Majority Office

Dollars for students or theat issue bureaucracy  

Concord, NH – Members of New Hampshire's higher education community as well as business and community leaders packed the Senate Finance room today to hear testimony on two competing ideas for increasing state assistance to college students.

The first bill, SB 125, sponsored by Sen. Martha Fuller Clark, D-Portsmouth, calls simply for increasing state support for the University and Community College system by $222 million over the next two years.  The legislation does not provide guidance for how the additional funding should be spent and relies on verbal commitments from college and university administrators to use the monies to freeze tuition (offset increased costs) and provide tuition assistance.  From 2004 though 2011, however, University of New Hampshire tuition increased by 49 percent, despite a 17 percent increase in taxpayer assistance to the University System.  Sen. Fuller Clark’s legislation does not identify spending reductions or tax increases to fund the $222 million fiscal note attached to it.

The second bill, SB 4, sponsored by Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Morse, R-Salem, would establish a new merit-based scholarship for New Hampshire residents to attend New Hampshire colleges or universities.  Speaking in support of his legislation, Senator Morse said:  By directing these funds to students, as opposed to simply writing a check to the system, this legislation will improve quality and decrease costs by giving students more control over their education dollars.  At the same time, we expect the legislation will incentivize New Hampshire students to attend school and maintain residence in the Granite State, an important policy objective for both the legislature and leaders in higher education.”  In his testimony, Sen. Morse also indicated his intention to work to restore funding for the state’s UNIQUE program which offers scholarship funding to needy students.  A number of Republican state Senators expressed their support for the MOOSE (Making Opportunities Occur for Student Excellence) Scholarship legislation as did representatives of the New Hampshire High Technology Council and the Manchester Chamber of Commerce.

Following the hearing, the Finance Committee voted to re-refer SB 125 but took no action on SB 4.  An amendment to SB 4 is expected at the committee's meeting next Tuesday.