Helping the university system helps our economy

To support our workforce pipeline, state financial aid is critical

There is a serious labor shortage in New Hampshire. Many employers are reporting significant difficulty in filling open positions. This is especially pronounced in manufacturing, technology, health care and other key sectors of New Hampshire’s economy.

According to the Economic and Labor Market Information Bureau, 1,600 manufacturing positions were left unfilled between July and August. Demographic factors exacerbate this situation. The state’s existing workforce is older than most other states and many workers are retiring or close to retirement.

The University System of New Hampshire has been an active partner with the business community working to understand and meet the needs of employers. It serves as a pipeline of young, work-ready individuals for employment. In fact, graduates of the USNH’s four campuses are the largest source of new labor for New Hampshire employers among all postsecondary institutions in the state. New Hampshire students are more than three times as likely to stay in-state upon graduation as non-New Hampshire students. But, for the university system to continue to fill its pipeline with new talent for New Hampshire employers, state financial support is critical.

Right now too many college-age students are choosing to complete their education outside New Hampshire. The state currently exports the highest percentage of college-bound students in the country. Once these individuals have left New Hampshire, few return to seek employment. We, in turn, miss out on a large pool of newly-trained, highly-motivated workers. There are many reasons that contribute to this, but the high cost of tuition at our state universities is an undeniable factor.

For the first time in decades, the Business and Industry Association made increased funding for the university system and community college system a priority budget request. In the last legislative session, lawmakers did what they could for the community college system, but the university system was essentially level-funded. New Hampshire’s financial support for the university system is the lowest per capita in the country.

This has a direct result on tuition costs, making UNH unaffordable for many New Hampshire students. It also is a factor in our graduates’ considerable student loan debt, ranked highest in the nation. 

There is a false perception that the university system is inefficient, contributing to high tuition rates. The fact is, the system spends less on operations and administration and has the lowest administrative costs per student than any other public university system in New England.

Furthermore, as a result of sound fiscal stewardship, USNH continues to see bond rating upgrades, producing additional savings to the state and its students. Innovations, such as self-insurance and high-deductible health plans, have helped contain costs as well. 

New Hampshire has a serious worker shortage. Our demographics are working against us and too many students choose to further their education out of state. The university system is a principal source of young talent for New Hampshire employers; it has an impressive record working directly with businesses to place students in internships that introduce them to career opportunities in the state; and it supports business growth through research and business incubation. But the university system needs sufficient support from the state. Investing in the University System of New Hampshire is a sound investment in the state’s economic future.

Jim Roche is president of the Business and Industry Association of New Hampshire.

Categories: Opinion