Higher ed costs seen as threat to state’s economy

New Hampshire remains near the head of the nation’s class in terms of people getting high school diplomas and college degrees, according to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau, but the high cost of higher education in the state could pose a threat to the standing.

“Many of these people (college graduates) have migrated into the state recently, and many will be retiring … and our concern is, are we growing our own, so to speak, in continuing to meet those needs?” said Ingrid Lemaire, director of research and government relations at the New Hampshire Higher Education Assistance Foundation.

Certainly, things look good right now, judging from figures released in March by the U.S. Census Bureau.

According to data collected in an annual supplement to the Current Population Survey, more than nine out of 10 people older than 25 in New Hampshire have at least a high school diploma. The state is sixth in the nation in this category.

More than one-third of New Hampshire residents older than 25 have a bachelor’s degree or higher, putting the state in fourth place alongside Colorado and Maryland. Only Massachusetts and the District of Columbia do noticeably better.

Both figures bode well for the state’s economy, since they help attract new companies and keep existing employers from leaving.

“Those are definitely numbers that recruiting consultants and larger companies look at. … They look at short-term workforce numbers like unemployment rate, but longer-term indicators of workforce like this are important in making decisions,” said Stuart Arnett, director of economic development for the state.

“In key industries, our economy is a value-driven economy, not price-driven, so it’s particularly important for us that the quality (of the workforce) be good because in cost and quantity, our numbers are not (competitive),” he said.

The census data also emphasized how individuals, not just state economies as a whole, get a financial boost from education. (See related story on page 33)

Money also is the factor behind the state’s major weakness, reflected in “Measuring Up 2004,” a national report card on higher education put out by the National Center for Public Policy, an independent think thank. That study gave New Hampshire an A for preparing students for college, but an F in affordability.

“The state is weak in providing students with an affordable higher education,” it said.

The findings are similar to those in a February white paper, “Accessing Higher Education in New Hampshire,” prepared by several New Hampshire higher education-related groups for state Sen. Robert Odell.

That report said New Hampshire was next-to-last in the country in terms of the share of public undergraduate tuition and fees paid by state grants and federal Pell grants.

It also said the best-educated portion of the state’s workforce is comparatively old – a trend known as the “age-wave” problem.

According to that report, more than two-thirds of New Hampshire residents with college degrees are older than 45 due to “decades of in-migration,” which it said “portends a looming shortage of skilled workers.”

In other words, New Hampshire, which has one of the country’s lowest percentage of residents born in state, has long used such factors as lifestyle and lack of income tax to lure well-educated people. But as New Hampshire grows and housing costs rise, this advantage may be weakening, which means more needs to be done to allow students to get their college degrees in-state.

Arnett noted that professionals often end up working near where they get their college or advanced degrees, which is bad news if more New Hampshire students leave the state because they can’t afford school here.


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