OP-ED: 2-Year Tuition Freeze at NH Community Colleges Highlights Opportunities

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Jeremy Hitchcock

By Ross Gittell and Jeremy Hitchcock

The state budget recently signed into law enables all seven of New Hampshire’s community colleges to freeze tuition for two academic years. 

This comes on the heels of a concerted effort since 2011 to rein in the rising cost of tuition. In total, the Community College System of NH (CCSNH) has increased tuition only 2.4 percent over the last eight years.

This is significant, particularly when compared to other New England 2-year colleges whose average increase over the same time period has been roughly 20 percent, and amidst heightened concern about college affordability and rising student debt.

At NH’s community colleges, students can earn a two-year associate degree with a total tuition price under $15,000, and with that be well prepared for a rewarding career or to continue on to a bachelor’s degree by transferring to one of the many colleges and universities that welcome and recruit these successful grads.  For example: 

Sergei Bondarenko, a 2019 graduate of Nashua Community College, was accepted this year as a transfer student at Amherst College, which has an acceptance rate below 8 percent.  Recent NH community college grads have also transferred to Dartmouth, Cornell, Johns Hopkins, Wellesley, Tufts, UPenn, and the Savannah College of Art and Design, to name just a few. 

While the sticker price of other, expensive universities might be offset by financial aid packages, too often they leave young graduates with tens of thousands of dollars of debt just as these individuals are otherwise ready to embark on their adult life.

Financial aid available at the community colleges goes a long way to offset the much lower overall cost, enabling graduates to launch their post-college life with more choices and financial freedom and less of their income going to pay off debt. Very smart is the student, and family, who choose a pathway that starts at a community college, rather than spending three, four, five or more times that each year.

Community colleges offer high quality programs, fully accredited and designed with input from the very employers who will be making hiring and promotion decisions. 

Programs align with employment demand, and range from cyber security and cloud based computing to veterans counseling, medical assisting to marketing, resort management to electrical technology, nursing and more. Employer demand can result in strong opportunities for advancement of community college grads: 

Jim Sinclair, a recent graduate of Dover High School, entered Great Bay Community College for a certificate in Advanced Composites.  A job interview by Safran Aerospace led to an offer before he graduated. Using the full-time income and tuition reimbursement benefits through his employer, he completed an associate degree in Technical Studies at Great Bay, followed by a bachelor of science in International Business at Southern NH University. He is now employed as a production planner and is pursuing an MBA.

NH community colleges also give high school students accelerated, low-cost pathways to a college degree and career through programs like Running Start and Early College. The recent announcement of career academies is another step in increasing the ways high school students can take advantage of community colleges’ affordable and accelerated pathways:  

Connor Garside of Windham, as a high school student took enough dual credit courses through Nashua Community College that he was able to earn a bachelor’s degree in Business at UNH in three years, resulting in a savings equal to one full year of UNH costs. 

His brother, Nolan, followed a similar path with community college dual credit courses; he achieved advanced standing in college and is on track to graduate from Bentley University in three years with a master’s degree in finance. 

These are just some of the paths our students and graduates have taken which illustrate the many opportunities available through CCSNH.  

The locally available opportunities for education, including for adults in the workforce, help residents continually access the resources they need to advance in their professional journey – from specific courses to full degree programs and many options in between.

Partnerships between the community colleges and employers mean that education will always be responsive to labor market need. The employment rate in New Hampshire for associate degree holders is virtually zero, attesting to the strong alignment of community college degrees with areas of professional opportunity:

One hundred percent of the nursing graduates from River Valley Community College‘s class of 2019 are employed as nurses in New Hampshire, after an associate degree program that saved them time and money to qualify to work as Registered Nurses. Similarly, all recent graduates of Manchester Community College’s new HVAC program are employed in their field.  

The tuition freeze at NH’s community colleges is very good news.  We know that it will lead more NH families to take advantage of the exceptional opportunities at our colleges across the state.

Ross Gittell is chancellor of the Community College System of NH.  Jeremy Hitchcock is chairman of the CCSNH board and founder of tech company Minim. CCSNH includes Great Bay Community College, Lakes Region Community College, Manchester Community College, Nashua Community College, NHTI-Concord’s Community College, River Valley Community College, and White Mountains Community College. 

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