By Tom Spencer, Staff Writer
UNH Works is at it again.
The grassroots organization dedicated to improving the future of the University of New Hampshire has a few simple goals. They want to restore public funding to UNH, freeze in-state tuition for two more years and improve New Hampshire’s economy.
Currently, UNH Works is lobbying for the state legislature to approve a plea from the University System of New Hampshire (USNH) board of trustees to restore public financial assistance to 2009 levels. The funding would also increase scholarship support for science, engineering, technology and math students.
“To achieve (our) goal, we will continue to reach out to students, parents, alumni and friends of UNH and ask them to join UNH Works,” said Mica Stark, the assistant vice president of public affairs for UNH. “There is strength in numbers. In a small state with a large legislature, politics is personal and we are well-positioned to make sure lawmakers are hearing from their constituents about why UNH is a smart investment.”
Stark is a passionate advocate for UNH. He discussed the people who make up UNH Works and what is behind their ideas.
“After the initial launch of UNH Works … we can proudly say that more than 2,300 students, parents, alumni and friends of UNH have signed up to be advocates,” Stark said.
According to Stark, these advocates include a number of well known business leaders, such as NH House Representative Doug Scamman and former state representative Stella Scamman.
“But just as important are the hundreds of New Hampshire residents — voters — who have told us that they are standing with us and are going to hold their elected leaders accountable for their support on higher education funding,” Stark said.
UNH Works advocates that the university is good for New Hampshire’s economy. Stark seemed to agree.
“Annually, UNH contributes $1.4 billion to the state’s economy,” Stark said. “Our advocates believe that UNH should be affordable for NH students and families, and that a strong UNH helps to grow the state’s economy.”
Tuition has been frozen for two years. If approved, this funding would allow students to pay the same tuition for four years straight for the first time in UNH’s history.
“We know that our advocates were influential in the decision-making around the budget and played an important role in ultimately helping us to restore some of the funding to UNH, which in turn allowed our board of trustees to freeze tuition for two years for in-state students,” Stark said.
But there are some obstacles in UNH Works’ path. Roughly a quarter of New Hampshire’s state budget, which is about five and a half billion dollars, goes to education. But most of this money goes to public elementary and high schools, rather than higher education.
“Our biggest hurdle is going to be convincing lawmakers to increase their investment in UNH in light of the many competing, and often worthy, requests for state funding from dozens of other agencies and departments,” Stark said. “New Hampshire’s state budget will be tight next year and we will need to make our best case, which is why we need as many people as we can to sign up as an advocate and join UNH Works.”