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Editorial: Why we keep leaving

By TNH Editorial Staff

University of New Hampshire President Mark Huddleston delivered his annual State of the University (SOTU) address on Tuesday and added a different spin with a town hall segment for the final 40 minutes.

It’s a good thing too, because the speech he delivered to open the event echoed the last two — maybe three — SOTU addresses and was quickly losing the interest of listeners.

A couple highlights from the speech prior to the question and answer session: more students enrolling in STEM programs, extending STEM programs to New Hampshire high schools, the largest freshman enrollment ever, $50 million in fundraising — not including Dana Hamel’s uncanny $10 million contribution. While these are notable accomplishments for the university, particularly on fundraising, most of the speech was the same old stuff.

How much longer will it be until President Huddleston can take the stage and say our elected officials in Concord have decided to invest in higher education? As Huddleston put it in his 2014 address, “I’m not holding my breath for that.”

But let’s get serious here. Investing in the university system and keeping students in the state may not seem like a problem now, but it will be soon.

According to a 2013 report in the Washington Post, the median age in New Hampshire was 41 in 2010. Rewind 10 years to 2000, the median age was 37. Take it back another decade to 1990 and the median age in the Granite state was an astounding 32.

Yes, that’s right. New Hampshire was kind of hip at one point. Now, more of the state has entered retirement and is sitting at home watching QVC.

Why is everyone leaving the state? We have a NASCAR track, 13 whole miles of seacoast, and exciting cities for young people like Manchester, Portsmouth and Laconia! We may even get casinos someday. What 20-something wouldn’t want to live in the Granite State?

This is all said in jest, of course. There really is not much in terms of opportunity or attraction keeping young professionals in our state, let alone drawing them from the outside. New Hampshire’s nicest perk? The White Mountains or maybe the absence of an income tax.

UNH and all of its campuses, as well as other institutions of higher education in the state, seem to be doing everything they can to keep students in New Hampshire.

It’s the state and the officials running it in Concord that are pushing them out.

A report by the New Hampshire Department of Education in 2012 found that “while most New Hampshire students continue to attend school in New England, 5 percent fewer than a decade ago are staying in New Hampshire.” And report published before that found a similar result.

As time goes on and our state grows older, the workforce will dive into the grave and take the economy right along with it.

It’s time for the politicos to wake up and see that this issue needs to be addressed. New Hampshire students are graduating high school and going to college. The ones who decide to come to Durham are paying some of the highest tuition in the nation for a public institution. UNH students, including those across the campuses and at other universities, are a talented and bright group that the state should be tapping into. But to keep them here, there needs to be professional opportunities.

And maybe the state will show its support for this young talent someday. For now, we cannot confidently say that will happen in the form of support for the university system anytime soon.

We’re not holding our breath.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this editorial stated the median age in New Hampshire was 41 in 1900. This was corrected to state the median age was 32 in 1990.

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