The state of higher ed in NH

Reflections on New Hampshire’s colleges and universities and the pending departure of an unsung hero

The week after Labor Day is a time that reminds most of us of returning to school, whether we have people in our household adjusting to the scholastic schedule or not. 

Around Labor Day this year, I had the chance to be on the campuses of UNH in Durham and Colby-Sawyer College in New London when the students returned, tanned, energetic, refreshed and optimistic. This reminded me that I got to the University of New Hampshire the week after Labor Day as a freshman in 1966 with many of those traits, but, frankly, with the students not looking quite as young!

This year, the return of students coincides with a family member in our extended family beginning his search in earnest for a college to attend starting next year. That process, always intimidating for parents and students alike, is enjoyable, although selecting the right institution from the hundreds of possible choices, is a challenge. 

Given the demographic statistics facing colleges in the Northeast, one of the least well-kept secrets is that often colleges and universities want the students more than the students want the colleges and universities, and many colleges are willing to bid for students with financial aid packages.

New Hampshire was affected by the early September announcement by the for-profit ITT Technical Institutes that it was closing all of its campuses across the United States. ITT purchased Daniel Webster College when that not-for-profit institution became unsustainable.

Initially, ITT announced that Daniel Webster would remain open, although much concern was expressed by students, faculty and others interested in its fate. The New England Association of Schools and Colleges announced that it would examine the accreditation status of Daniel Webster, and other institutions eyed its students for “teach-out” or other affiliation. 

Daniel Webster’s situation is the latest of a series of institutions that have faced declining enrollments, student debt pressure and other factors and decided to close. Most recently, Lebanon and Chester Colleges in New Hampshire have closed and other private institutions continue to struggle with the need to attract qualified students who can afford to pay the costs. 

The effect of the closure of institutions on the state and local economies is significant. All New Hampshire citizens should be concerned about the condition of our colleges. 

In early September, the NH College and University Council announced that its longtime president and CEO, Thomas R. Horgan, would retire on June 30, 2017. 

Horgan, who came to New Hampshire in 1993 after serving in the legislature in Nebraska, has headed the NHCUC ably. 

The NHCUC represents all of the higher education institutions in the state, whether public or private. Often, the interests of public and private institutions clash, with the private institutions envious of state assistance and everyone seeking limited scholarship and loan dollars. 

New Hampshire has the distinction of providing the smallest support for its public institutions of higher education and lacks the scholarship programs offered elsewhere. Nevertheless, Horgan has been successful in continuing the joint efforts of the publics and privates dealing with the issues faced by all of them including providing vocational opportunities to graduates, seeking ways to make both types of institutions affordable, reducing student debt and integrating the institutions into the life of the state and help make their resources available to its citizens.

Some of the initiatives in which Horgan has participated include the founding of the Campus Compact for New Hampshire which seeks to help with financial aid, launching the NH Scholars Program and co-founding and sponsoring the NH Forum on the Future, which brings speakers to the public on various issues that are important to the state.

Horgan also has represented the interests of public and private institutions at the Legislature and in discussion of public policy questions that have been turned into legislation. Notably, when Congress authorized college savings plans, Horgan was helpful in creating New Hampshire’s 529 College Savings Plan, which has allowed families to save for educational expenses through tax-assisted accounts, with the profits partially funding scholarships. 

One of the unsung heroes of the state, Horgan will be tough to replace. New Hampshire and the NHCUC are lucky that he has agreed to stay on as a senior advisor for a year after he steps down. 

Brad Cook, a shareholder in the Manchester law firm of Sheehan Phinney Bass + Green, heads its government relations and estate planning groups.

Categories: Cook on Concord