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Higher Education

Citizens Count Editor

Public colleges and universities are higher education institutions founded by state governments and partially funded through state tax dollars.

New Hampshire’s public colleges and universities include the University System of New Hampshire, the Community College System of New Hampshire, Keene State College, Plymouth State University, and Granite State College. They are funded through a combination of state money, federal funds, tuition and fees, and private donations. 

The New Hampshire Legislature does not have control over the entire university system budget or what they charge for tuition.  Instead, the Legislature decides how much state funding to give public higher education every two years as part of the state budget.  Leaders at New Hampshire’s public colleges and universities then decide how to spend that money and set tuition rates.

Current higher education funding in NH

New Hampshire funding for public colleges and universities is low compared to other states.

On average, public colleges and universities in the United States get about one-fifth of their funding from state government. In New Hampshire, state funding only covers about one-tenth of the budget for the University System of New Hampshire. 

According to data from the College Board, in 2018 New Hampshire had the lowest state funding for higher education in the United States, at $2,960 per student (based on total enrollment). 

Tuition and fees cover most of the difference.  In New Hampshire, tuition and fees make up over one-third of the revenue for public colleges and universities, compared to a national average of 21%.

It is not surprising, then, that New Hampshire public colleges and universities had the second-highest highest average in-state tuition in the United States, at $16,460 in 2018, with only Vermont higher at 16,610. (The national average was $10,230.)

Historical highs and lows for university funding

Funding for public colleges and universities was much higher before the recession. In 2001 New Hampshire funding per student reached a high of $5,515

However, due to falling tax revenues, the 2011 New Hampshire Legislature cut college and university funding by roughly half, down to less than $2,000 per student.  The University of New Hampshire raised tuition at its four-year colleges by about 10% to cover the loss. 

The Legislature restored about half of that higher education funding in the next state budget, in 2013. New Hampshire’s two-year community colleges and four-year institutions were both able to freeze tuition for the next two years. 

In 2015 the Legislature once again increased college and university funding, but this time only by about 5%. The community college was able to actually cut tuition at that point, but the University of New Hampshire broke the freeze and raised tuition at four-year colleges again.

In 2017, the Legislature level-funded the University System of New Hampshire but gave the Community College System more funding. In return, New Hampshire’s community colleges have promised another tuition freeze. Tuition is expected to continue to increase at New Hampshire’s four-year public colleges and universities.

Alternatives to increasing state funding

Most legislators agree that New Hampshire residents benefit from lower tuition at public colleges and universities. Raising state funding isn’t the only way to keep college affordable for Granite Staters, however.

There are also various state and federal student loan programs that help students afford college – at least in the short-term. However, some critics argue the wide availability of student loans just enables colleges to raise tuition.


The Legislature has expressed interest in how the university system could spend more efficiently. For example, public colleges and universities could offer more courses online, limit spending on athletics, or use more adjunct faculty instead of tenured professors. 

Alternative funding formulas

One way the Legislature could push for public colleges and universities to spend more efficiently would be to link funding to student enrollment or educational outcomes, instead of granting an arbitrary lump sum.

Spending caps

Some states have assed laws to cap how much universities may raise tuition, such as limiting increases to a certain percentage each year, or tying them to changes in the state’s median income. Others legislate how much universities can spend on certain programs. These caps can keep tuition low, but might put more pressure on legislators to use state funds to make up any shortfall in a school’s budget.

In Maryland, lawmakers have addressed this challenge by creating a stabilization fund—a special ‘rainy day’ fund for the public university system which can be tapped when revenue drops or costs go up to take the pressure off tuition rates.

Funding financial aid

Some states allocate additional spending to financial aid, rather than general institutional aid. The goal of this policy is to see that the extra money is targeted toward helping poorer students who might not otherwise be able to afford college. However, critics express concern that the “sticker shock” of overall tuition rates might intimidate some out of applying at all. 


Colorado has experimented with a sort of voucher program, which gives every college student a stipend for credits at either public or private colleges.  Ideally this program forces public colleges to compete with private colleges to offer the best value for students.

Citizens Count Editor

 “New Hampshire should increase funding for higher education.”

  • According to almost any measure, New Hampshire provides the lowest support for public higher education of any state in the U.S. For example, a study from the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association found that New Hampshire allocates just 1.9% of tax revenues to higher education, compared to a national average of 5.8%. 
  • As long as New Hampshire’s support for public colleges remains low, tuition is most likely going to remain high. This doesn’t just hurt students and their families in the short-term.  In the long-term, it burdens students with debt that limits their job prospects (for example, most health care students can’t afford to work in low-income or rural areas, where salaries are lower, and still make loan payments). It also makes them less likely to make large investments, such as purchasing a home. This has a negative effect on the entire economy. 
  • A higher percentage of students in New Hampshire leave the state to go to college than anywhere else in the US, with the sole exception of Vermont. This makes it more likely those young people will permanently settle out-of-state, exacerbating the challenge of New Hampshire’s increasingly aging demographics. Lowering in-state tuition could help entice students to stay here instead of moving away.  
  • The university system demonstrated its commitment to cost-cutting in 2013, when it froze tuition despite not getting all the funding it requested from the Legislature. If the state increases university funding in the future, legislators can be confident students will see the difference in their tuition rates.
  • According to a nation-wide 2009 study from Research in Higher Education, every $1 of taxpayer money spent on higher education has a return of $2.35 in future tax revenue and savings on social services. (Though New Hampshire lacks a sales or income tax, the study also looked at the property taxes residents eventually pay, and these make up a significant portion of the Granite State’s revenue.)
Citizens Count Editor

 “New Hampshire should not increase funding for higher education.”

  • New Hampshire has actually been lowering tuition to its community colleges over recent years, making it one of only a handful of states in the U.S. to do so. 
  • The University of New Hampshire has not demonstrated it spends state money wisely.  For example, in 2016 the university spent $17,570 on a single light-up table at the dining hall. 
  • From 2005 to 2015 the amount UNH Durham spent per student (including graduate students) increased by 33%.  That’s faster than the rate of inflation over the same time period, about 21%.  Did the university really increase the value of education by that much over just ten years?  This spending growth suggests there is room for UNH to cut its budget.
  • The higher tuition at the University of New Hampshire is matched with a high quality education.  According to the U.S. News and World Report rankings of universities, UNH Durham tied for 46th out of 132 public colleges and universities in the United States. Tuition rates don’t need to decrease if students are receiving a higher-quality education. 
  • Rather than increase funding for the university system overall, the state should focus on financial aid for students pursuing degrees in fields that have a shortage of qualified workers, such as the health care field. To learn more about efforts to educate a new generation of workers in critical fields, visit our Jobs, Trades, and Skills Training issue page. 


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