By Raoul Biron, Staff Writer
Despite actively fighting a continued lack of state funding, University of New Hampshire President Mark Huddleston outlined a year of unprecedented growth in this year’s State of the University address on Tuesday.
“If the number of highly qualified applicants reflects at all an institution’s reputation, success and momentum, then UNH is certainly doing a lot of things right,” he said on Tuesday, focusing on a 10 percent increase in this year’s incoming first-year class in spite of dropping rates of high school graduates entering college in New Hampshire.
UNH received record-breaking amounts of private financial support for the second consecutive year, but Huddleston highlighted systemic problems in New Hampshire’s legislature keeping tuition rates up and potential students out.
“Higher education in New Hampshire is really, really expensive,” Huddleston said. “It is not only beyond the reach, it is beyond the imagination of far too many young people.”
Huddleston called upon his own college experience in the SUNY system of the 1960s to implore students and legislators alike to view higher education as an investment.
“Who can seriously believe that in the 21st century, New Hampshire will thrive … by having an under-educated citizenry?” Huddleston said. “Why does this seem like a good idea?”
On Feb. 12, Gov. Maggie Hassan revealed a proposed budget that, despite increasing funding for University System New Hampshire, would not allow for a tuition freeze for residential and non-resi-dential students.
President Huddleston responded in his address, stating that UNH is prepared to fight to reestablish higher education in the state as a public resource.
“By misconstruing education purely as a private benefit, we are reinforcing an opportunity gap that will haunt our state for generations, diminish our wealth and impoverish our spirit,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be this way. We can turn it around.”
Huddleston repeatedly advertised UNH Works, which he described as a “grassroots, statewide campaign that invites citizens across New Hampshire to unite and show their support for UNH to our state’s elected leaders.”
Designed to pressure state officials before confirming a biennial budget in June, one of the organization’s principal appeals is for state funding for higher education to return to the roughly $100 million received in 2009.
“How heavy a lift should that be?” said Huddleston.
He went on to comment that decisive and unified action can successfully influence the legislature.
“When we push the button and ask them to make those phone calls and send those emails, we can move the needle,” he said.
In an effort to induce a community-wide dialogue and address issues not mentioned in his speech, Huddleston opened the floor to questions from the UNH community, fielding a wide array of concerns and questions from administrators, undergraduates, graduate students, professors and multiple organizations.
Among the organizations that offered questions were the Student Environmental Action Coalition regarding the university’s reliance on fossil fuels and UNH Lecturer’s United asking about UNH’s balance between research and education.
Huddleston continually referenced core ideas expressed in 2014’s address to affirm an outlook of growth and success entering 2015.
“We work smarter and harder,” he said. “We’ve shone through all that adversity and that success can be seen on the enrollment front.”
He expressed that the $60 million UNH received in private donations in 2014 as “UNH’s greatest fundraising success ever,” a 13 percent increase in students entering STEM majors, and a 23 percent increase in students from “underrepresented groups” continue to allow the university to thrive, in spite of budget constraints and a subsequent lack of faculty.
“UNH is a model of efficiency,” Huddleston said. “Now it’s time for our partners in Concord to do their share.”