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N.H. university trustees seeking greater state aid

CONCORD, N.H. — The ­University System of New Hampshire says it needs the state government to be a better partner if it is going to keep ­tuition down and reverse the perception among many students and guidance counselors that the system is in decline.

On Monday, members of the board of trustees told the Senate Finance Committee they are troubled that the number of ­in-state applicants dropped by 13 percent in the last year. They also cited a similar drop in first-time student enrollment. Any aid they receive will go toward addressing the declines..

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The university system pledged to freeze tuition in ­return for a larger increase in state aid dollars that Governor Maggie Hassan included in her budget proposal. That increase was cut $12 million by the House in its budget, and the trustees called on the Senate to restore those cuts.

The universities said the House cuts jeopardize their pledge to freeze tuition.

Todd Leach, interim chancellor for the University System of New Hampshire, said that state aid will be split between the freeze, scholarships, and keeping fees down for students who are struggling to cover their costs.

Leach said he is still hopeful that Hassan’s figures for aid can be reached, but said they are beginning to look at contingency plans in the event those numbers are not reached.

The Senate finance chairman, Chuck Morse, a Salem ­Republican, said he hoped to avoid additional cuts, but was not optimistic about the possibility of reaching the level of funding proposed by Hassan.

The state’s universities say that cuts made by the House are jeopardizing their pledge to freeze tuition and are asking the Senate for help.

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He added that the public universities have bigger problems than a shortfall in what they had expected from the state, alluding to issues with their bonds and recent criticism of the faculty sabbatical system.

Graduates of New Hampshire’s universities have the highest debt load in the country, but supporters point out that graduates have a lower than average default rate, which they say means that students are finding jobs and managing to pay down their college debt.

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