Community colleges’ range of opportunities

Latest tuition freeze stresses their affordability

The state budget recently signed into law enables all seven of New Hampshire’s community colleges to freeze tuition for two academic years. This comes on the heels of a concerted effort since 2011 to rein in the rising cost of tuition.

In total, the Community College System of New Hampshire (CCSNH) has increased tuition only 2.4% over the last eight years. This is significant, particularly when compared to other New England two-year colleges, whose average increase over the same time period has been roughly 20 percent, and amidst heightened concern about college affordability and rising student debt.

At New Hampshire’s community colleges, students can earn a two-year associate degree with a total tuition price under $15,000, and with that be well-prepared for a rewarding career or to continue on to a bachelor’s degree by transferring to one of the many colleges and universities that welcome and recruit these successful grads.

For example, Sergei Bondarenko, a 2019 graduate of Nashua Community College, was accepted this year as a transfer student at Amherst College, which has an acceptance rate below 8%. Recent grads have also transferred to Dartmouth, Cornell, Johns Hopkins, Wellesley, Tufts and the University of Pennsylvania, to name just a few.

Financial aid available at the community colleges goes a long way to offset the much lower overall cost, enabling graduates to launch their post-college life with more choices and financial freedom and less of their income going to pay off debt. Very smart is the student, and family, who choose a pathway that starts at a community college, rather than spending three, four, five or more times that each year.

Community colleges offer high-quality programs, that align with employment demand, and range from cybersecurity and cloud based computing to veterans counseling, medical assisting to marketing, resort management to electrical technology, nursing and more. Employer demand can result in strong opportunities for advancement of community college grads:

Jim Sinclair, a recent graduate of Dover High School, entered Great Bay Community College for a certificate in advanced composites. A job interview led to an offer by Safran Aerospace before he graduated. Using the full-time income and tuition reimbursement benefits through his employer, he completed an associate degree in technical studies, followed by a bachelor of science in international business at Southern New Hampshire University. He is now employed as a production planner and is pursuing an MBA.

New Hampshire community colleges also give high school students accelerated, low-cost pathways to a college degree and career through programs like Running Start and Early College and the recently announced career academies.

As a high school student, Connor Garside of Windham took enough dual-credit courses through Nashua Community College that he was able to earn a bachelor’s degree in business at UNH in three years. His brother, Nolan, followed a similar path with community college dual-credit courses. He achieved advanced standing in college and is on track to graduate from Bentley University in three years with a master’s degree in finance.

The locally available opportunities for education, including for adults in the workforce, help residents continually access the resources they need to advance in their professional journey — from specific courses to full degree programs and many options in between.

Partnerships between the community colleges and employers mean that education will always be responsive to labor market need. The employment rate in New Hampshire for associate degree holders is virtually zero, attesting to the strong alignment of community college degrees with areas of professional opportunity.

We know the tuition freeze will lead more New Hampshire families to take advantage of the exceptional opportunities at our colleges across the state.

Ross Gittell is chancellor of the Community College System of New Hampshire. Jeremy Hitchcock, chair of the CCSNH board, is founder of tech company Minim.

Categories: Opinion