Limited state funding for public higher education adds to workforce constraints – New Hampshire Business Review

First published in New Hampshire Business Review, November 17, 2023; also republished in Laconia Daily Sun

Three of the five occupations with the largest projected 10-year growth in New Hampshire are in fields that typically require college degrees, including registered nurses. Despite this need, New Hampshire ranks as one of the lowest funders of public higher education in the U.S.

In fiscal year 2023, New Hampshire budgeted $106 for public higher education for every person in the state. Nationwide, state support for public higher education averaged $338 per capita. To fund public higher education in New Hampshire at the national average level, New Hampshire would need to increase funding by $232 per capita, resulting in a total higher education appropriation of more than $464 million, approximately $318 million more than what was appropriated in 2023.

Public postsecondary institutions may increase tuition costs in response to low state funding to meet operating budget needs. In the 2023-2024 academic year, New Hampshire’s public four-year institutions had the highest in-state tuition and fees rates among neighboring states. Combined tuition and fees ranged from $14,558 at Plymouth State University to $19,112 at the University of New Hampshire.

Low state funding for postsecondary education may contribute to higher student loan debt. Graduates from New Hampshire’s colleges and universities who have student loan debt carry the highest average debt, at $39,950, compared to all other graduates in the country. Additionally, New Hampshire ranks second for the highest percentage of graduates (70%) with student debt. Nationally, student debt is not equally distributed across racial and ethnic groups, with many graduates of color carrying higher debt burdens than white graduates.

Young Granite Staters may leave the state to pursue more affordable college opportunities. The most recently available data reveals that, in 2020, 56% of New Hampshire high school graduates seeking four-year degrees left the state for their education. Of all the New England states, Maine had the lowest rate at 38%. In 2020, Maine appropriated $7,838 per full-time equivalent student enrolled at a four-year institution compared to New Hampshire’s $2,494.

Making college more affordable in New Hampshire may be a key component to addressing workforce constraints. With an aging population, New Hampshire risks losing young, college-educated workers who are needed for a robust, diversified workforce that helps enable strong economic growth.

Nicole Heller is a senior policy analyst with the New Hampshire Fiscal Policy Institute. The NHFPI Policy Memo is a partnership of the NH Fiscal Policy Institute and NH Business Review.