Report ranks NH Community College System least affordable in the nation

University System doesn’t fare much better

Struggling students have to work more hours – over 50 a week – to pay for public college education in New Hampshire, according to a report released Thursday that gives more credence to the already widely accepted belief that the Granite State has the least affordable higher education system in the nation.

Even to attend community college, Granite State students from families making $30,000 a year have to spend 120 percent of their income, and that is after student aid, according to College Cost in Context, a report published by The Institute for College Access & Success, based on data from 2014-15.

Another translation for that number is 51 hours of work per week for two years to obtain an associate degree, earning the minimum wage – the next highest state is Minnesota at 29 hours a week.

It isn’t just low income students. New Hampshire’s community college system is the least affordable by far of any income group.

The report looks not just at tuition and fees – which averages $6,000 for community college – but living expenses, and then takes into account financial assistance. It is the lack of student aid and the cost of living that mostly contribute to community college net price of $14,457 a year for poorer students (which get federal help) and $19,230 for those with incomes of $110,000.  

Ross Gittell, the chancellor of the Community College System of NH, might take issue with some of the report’s details: the state’s minimum wage is lower than most, but most high school graduates with some college get paid more. But Gittell doesn’t bicker with its premise. True, only a small percentage of students live on campus and pay room and board, but if a student is going to school full-time, they have to live somewhere, and since many students are adults, they have to support themselves.

“Our cost of living and the lack of state support is the differentiating factor without a doubt,” he said. “I can’t argue with the fact that many other states have a more generous aid program and that makes it more challenging for our students. This report highlights that challenge.”

This is particularly important to businesses, he emphasized.

“It is top of the list of business to have a stronger pool of graduates from state intuitions that we can employ right away, and it’s tough to do that when affordability is such an issue.”

Gittell did however say that the community college system managed to lower tuition the year after 2014-15, one of the only states to do so, and it has kept it flat since then. He also pointed to the state’s robust duel enrollment program which allows high school students to get community college credits at a much lower cost.

 The current state budget, proposed by Governor Chris Sununu and now being evaluated by the State Senate, increases funding for the community college system, not the four-year college system. If passed as is that could lead to tuition increases among four-year colleges in the next few years.

When it comes to four-years college, New Hampshire is among the least affordable, but it has some competition, according to the report.

Since the average net price for those under the $30,000 bracket is a bit higher after aid – $15,782 – students have to pay more of their income (131 percent) and work 56 hours for four years earning the minimum wage. That still leads the nation in the most hours work, though Pennsylvania is right behind with 53.

Furthermore, low income residents in Washington, D.C. spend more 146 percent of their income at two-year colleges, regulating New Hampshire to the second unaffordable in that category.  New Hampshire is also runner up the next income level up ($30,000-48,000) with 49 percent of income required for college; and is still runner up in the middle income bracket ($48,000 to $75,000) with 34 percent of income, though in the latter case is a fraction of a percent behind New Jersey, not DC, where residents also pay about 34 percent of their income.  

 But for those students in the top two income brackets, the Granite States manages stand out as the least affordable. Students from families making $75,000 to $110,000 pay 28 percent of their income whereas those making over $110,000 thousand pay 19 percent.

“Ensuring a University of New Hampshire education is affordable and accessible to New Hampshire’s best and brightest has long been a priority,” said the University of New Hampshire in a statement when asked about the report.  “The Granite Guarantee will ensure all full-time, first-year New Hampshire students receiving Federal Pell Grants will pay no tuition to attend the university.”

The program should help 285 first-year students on UNH’s Durham and Manchester campuses in their first year and the college said it hopes to expand it in future years.

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