Just before the 1997 holiday season, New Hampshire's reliance on property taxes to fund education was declared unconstitutional.
The so-called "Claremont decision" immediately became both front page news and a legislative battleground. In the midst of the turmoil, as the state began what turned out to be the long and arduous task of agreeing on new funding mechanisms, advocates for UNH began to talk about how the needs of higher education should not get lost in the shuffle.
Indeed, this spring's last- minute agreement to provide state funding for K-12 education was as much as $100 million shy of what's needed over the next two years. And a number of lawmakers said the shortfall should trigger flat-funding for the budgets of most state agencies, including the University System of New Hampshire.
"Level funding would have meant tuition would have gone up drastically, as much as 14 percent," says Jon Stearns '73, of Lebanon, N.H., a former president of the UNH Parents Association. "That's the last thing we want to happen. We want New Hampshire kids to be able to afford their state university."
And Stearns claims even more was at stake. "It's at the point now where if the legislature continues to underfund the University, it won't be able to remain an excellent educational institution," he says.
Lobbying efforts in June by hundreds of alumni and University supporters may have been influential in the legislative process. In a surprising turn of events, the state House voted 189-165 to accept the Senate's version of the budget—which provided a 4.7 percent increase for USNH—and Gov. Jeanne Shaheen quickly signed the bill.
The recent round of $4.5 million in budget cuts at UNH, a larger-than-expected incoming freshman class (an estimated 2,500 students, up from last fall's 2,100) and the increase in state funding means UNH has a balanced budget for fiscal year 2000 without drawing on reserves, says Candace Corvey, UNH vice president for finance and administration.
To balance the budget, tuition will increase by 6 percent for in-state students and 3.5 percent for out-of-state students. Total costs, including tuition, fees, room and board, will increase next year 4.9 percent and 3.6 percent, respectively.
One continuing concern is the long list of UNH facilities that need renovations. UNH's $15 million capital budget request was trimmed by the legislature to $4.3 million to renovate Pettee Hall, $600,000 to repair Murkland Hall's leaking roof—down from the $5.45 million complete renovation requested—and $680,000 in design work for renovations of Kingsbury Hall.
Campus administrators say UNH's capital budget will be a top priority in the next budget biennium.Return to UNH Magazine Campus Currents