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Letter campaign pushes for increased university system funding

In an effort to encourage the New Hampshire Legislature to allocate more funding in the upcoming state budget to the university system, members of the UNH student body and university administration met in the Memorial Union Building’s (MUB) Granite State Room on Wednesday to take part in a letter writing campaign titled, “Campus to Concord.” By the end of the two-hour event, approximately 60 letters were written and are likely to be sent to the state capital within the next days, organizers of the event said. 

The original state budget proposal made by Gov. Chris Sununu in early February, which didn’t include any increase in funding to the university system, recently failed to get the approval from the New Hampshire House of Representatives last week, and according to John DiStaso of WMUR, this is the first time since 1969 that the body failed to pass a spending plan. The State Senate began crafting their proposed version of the budget, which will cover the 2018-19 fiscal years, on Monday.

According to Thomas Cronin, UNH’s public affairs manager, the university system’s budget request for the next two years is $88.5 million for 2018 and then $93.5 million for 2019, and these funds will be distributed among the institutions that make up the New Hampshire University System: UNH, Plymouth State University, Keene State College and Granite State College. For the past three years, the system’s budget has remained stagnant at $81 million.

Cronin, who is largely responsible for maintaining UNH’s relationship with the state legislators, said that Wednesday’s event was a “good partnership between [UNH] communications, public affairs and the student governance association.”

A similar event, titled Hot Pizza Frozen Tuition, took place in March 2015—the last time a state budget was being drafted by the New Hampshire Legislature. For a period of three years, from 2013-15, the cost of UNH’s in-state tuition was frozen at $13,670, while out-of-state tuition gradually increased from $26,130 to $26,650 during the same three-year term, according to the university’s website. In 2016, in-state tuition rose to $14,050, and out-of-state was increased to $27,320. The current cost of tuition at UNH is $14,410 for in-state students and $28,210 for out-of-state students; in-state tuition costs have almost doubled since 2007, rising from $8,240 to where it currently is. 

Though freezing tuition is the “ultimate goal of the state,” Cronin said he and his peers recognize that “Concord has a lot of priorities right now.” Essentially, he said, they are working with state lawmakers to see where the budget can overlap with the university’s system financial needs in a congruent manner.

“It will all depend on what dollars are available and then what we can do financially and internally to try to hold costs down,” Cronin said.

What students wrote in the letters varied depending on the individual, sheets with suggestions on what to include were on each of the dozen or so tables in the room. Such tips included the following: “Identify yourself…and why you’re writing,” “Consider and try to address one or more of the following: Why does college access and affordability matter to you?” “Why is public higher education important to you?” “Why do you believe in UNH, (what has UNH meant to you, describe your UNH experience)?” “What do you hope to do with your education post graduation?” And lastly, “Ask for help and say thank you.”

Student Body President-elect Carley Rotenberg, who attended the letter-writing event with her vice president-elect, Alexandra Burroughs, both out-of-state students, remarked that while the letters are a good start, it will be necessary to follow up on the situation. One of the ideas that Rotenberg suggested was the organization of student group visit to the Statehouse.

“I don’t really know where we stand with the state,” Rotenberg said, “…but if we meet with them and talk with them a lot more, I would like to be on the same page.”

Rotenberg mentioned that her letter would focus on the leadership experience she gained during her time at UNH, notably the opportunities that have come up through her involvement with the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC).

Jake Adams, an in-state sophomore with a major in business administration and a minor in English, and the chair of the Student Activity Fee Committee, emphasized in his letter that “more funding for public education is a long term investment in the New Hampshire economy.”

“Any funding for education will always pay off,” Adams continued. “You’re essentially just putting money back into the work force.”

With his letter, Adams wanted to make a logical argument rather than one that might be viewed as an emotional appeal. According to him, if he were to take a more logical stance, there might be a greater likelihood that the state senators would feel more compelled to listen.

Unlike with many of the event’s other attendees, Enrica Jossi won’t be directly affected by any increase in tuition for next year. Jossi, a senior in the marine biology program and a native of Switzerland, said she felt compelled to write a letter because New Hampshire has essentially become home for her. However, she noted that while public education is highly important, she thinks that it’s “sort-of neglected in New Hampshire.”   

“I come from a place where public education is super important and where everyone has the opportunity to go to any school they want to, and that has felt important to me ever since I was little,” Jossi said. “…Having the chance to come here was a blessing and I’m really happy to be here—and stay here.”

Correction: This story was updated on April 13 to include the correct rate of tuition for the 2016-17 academic year.

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