Pit Stop #8: New Hampshire University System

I was able to catch up with Chancellor (and NECHE Commissioner) Todd Leach over lunch at his office in Concord where we had a free-ranging conversation. Chancellor Leach has presided over the four public state universities in New Hampshire for seven years, after a term as President of one of those four, Granite State College.

UNH logo
The big four in New Hampshire.

As he noted when I asked about the specific make-up of the New Hampshire system compared to other state systems, he repeated one of my wise predecessor Barbara Brittingham’s favorite quotes :

…When you’ve seen one state system, you’ve seen one state system.”

In New Hampshire’s case, it’s notable that the flagship, the University of New Hampshire, is part of the system. That’s not the case, for example, next door in Vermont. 

The flagship UNH campus.

Each week, Leach assembles a group he calls the Administrative Board– made up of the four presidents of the University of New Hampshire, Plymouth State University, Keene State College, Granite State– and himself. One of the board’s goals is to come to agreement on issues that might otherwise end up before the governing board. Leach added that those discussions do not always conclude with an unanimous vote. I can only imagine that these decisions are not easy ones as the flagship UNH, the behemoth in the room, enrolls a full 70% of all students in the system. 

Larry and Chancellor Leach
Chancellor Leach and me, fully masked.

A few facts to consider: Per student, New Hampshire provides the least amount of funding to its state system of any state in the country. The legislature seems quite committed to the “No income tax/No sales tax” approach to funding state government and a result, there’s not much dough to go around. On top of that, in the aftermath of the Great Recession, the state reduced its funding of higher education by 50% in 2010– and by 2020, New Hampshire had returned to just 90% of the pre-recession level of support. That was before Covid crushed education and the economy. New Hampshire is also, as a percent of population, the largest exporter of college students to other states.

These are all data points that no one wants to own.

And here’s one more challenge. By law the system’s flagship, University of New Hampshire, cannot enroll more than 25% of its student body from out-of-state without a waiver every year from the Board. Blessedly, that waiver has come every year, with UNH now welcoming 50% of its students from out-of-state, paying a markedly higher tuition rate that works to subsidize the in-staters.

It’s a deeply rooted and complex system…

As noted, Chancellor Leach serves on NECHE’s Commission as a representative of the SHEO’s (State Higher Education Officers) across New England. As the Commission is seeing an increased level of activity from the public sector, Chancellor Leach’s service to the Commission is proving invaluable. He thrives in his job and I can can tell you, it’s not an easy one. 

Listen to Leach’s keen perspective on state systems in higher education today:

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