Testimony before the House Education Committee Regarding HB 1692

February 7th, 2012 by Jennifer Philion

House Education Committee HB 1692
25 January 2012
Legislative Office Building, Room 207

Testimony by Sara Jayne Steen
President of Plymouth State University

Chairman Balboni and members of the Education Committee, thank you for the opportunity to address you today. I am Sara Jayne Steen, President of Plymouth State University.

Plymouth State University is a regional comprehensive university of approximately 7,500 students. We provide well-educated graduates for New Hampshire’s workforce, ongoing opportunities for graduate education and professional development, research and creativity that directly benefit the state, and partnerships for cultural enrichment and economic development. Extraordinary programs attract students from New Hampshire and around the world and are crucial to New Hampshire’s ongoing competitiveness and future quality of life. Like you, we believe in partnerships and academic excellence, and we are committed to making New Hampshire a better place to live, to learn, and to earn.

Like my colleagues here today, I oppose HB 1692 to restructure the state’s public higher education system.

The university system and its campuses are achieving excellence and doing so cost-effectively. When I came to New Hampshire almost six years ago, I knew that the level of state support was the lowest in the nation, but I also could see what Plymouth State and other USNH campuses had been accomplishing by working together and in partnership with the state through, for example, the Knowledge Economy Education Plan (KEEP), a system-wide initiative led by the Chancellor and supported by the General Court. Repeatedly our campuses and system have received recognition for excellence and demonstrated an ability to be innovative on behalf of the state in developing programs and partnerships, and repeatedly our campuses and system have been shown to be operating below the costs of our comparators. The Board of Trustees exercises its fiduciary responsiblity carefully. We agree with your concern for increased institutional autonomy and have been collaborating on a plan to that end, again being mindful of cost-effectiveness.

The bill’s sponsors assume financial savings for the campuses, but there also are costs. Plymouth State University benefits from shared services at the system level, and there are economies of scale in, for example, treasury and investment among other functions. Should the system office be reduced as proposed in this bill, Plymouth State and the other campuses will have to replicate system support and maintain the high level of quality and accountability. For PSU, that will entail costs and additional employees at a time when our appropriation has been reduced by 48%. In some cases the shift is likely to introduce additional costs. The move toward increased institutional autonomy on which the Board is moving will allow USNH campuses to be even more nimble, but such a transition must be done carefully. Looking to economy of scale and appropriate system services is prudent management.

Part of the genius of the General Court’s creation of the University System was in providing the Board with the authority to respond to changing circumstances, as the members of the Board of Trustees are doing now, working with the Chancellor and the campus leadership teams. I urge you to allow the Board of Trustees to do what it has done for approximately 50 years: respond reasonably and responsibly to changing circumstances and direct a system of public higher education of which New Hampshire can be proud.

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