University system requests additional $52 million to hold tuition freeze, add scholarships

New Hampshire's state universities want an additional $52 million next year to maintain a tuition freeze, give more scholarships to science and math students and lower tuition for some community-college transfer students.

Representatives from the University System of New Hampshire presented the request to Gov. Maggie Hassan Thursday morning, kicking off three days of budget proposals for the 2016-17 fiscal years. These requests serve as a guideline for Hassan as she begins to develop her budget that's due to the Legislature in February. The state's largest agency, the Department of Health and Human Services, will present its budget Friday afternoon.

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The university system's $205 million request would restore its funding to the 2009 level. The Legislature already restored about half of drastic cuts made in the 2011-12 budget, but university officials say they need more to attract the best students.

"Applications tanked" after the funding was cut, University of New Hampshire President Mark Huddleston said. A survey conducted by the university showed students were not applying because it was cheaper for them to go to school out of state and because some students, particularly those in higher income brackets, perceived a decline in quality because of the budget cuts, Huddleston said.

New Hampshire students graduate on average with the highest level of college debt in the nation. The new $52 million would help keep tuition frozen, an initiative that began in 2013, and provide more scholarships for students in the science, technology, engineering and math fields. Training students in those areas is important for New Hampshire's economic growth, Huddleston said.

Some money will go toward stabilizing tuition for community college students in specific workforce training programs who plan to transfer to UNH.

The final budget is unlikely to include all of this money, as Hassan has already asked agencies to reduce their requests. She encouraged university officials to look for ways to spend money more efficiently.