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Higher ed study points to NH brain drain

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A new study by the New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies puts numbers and statistical analysis to the growing problem of young, educated Granite Staters leaving the state.

This brain drain is one reason why the average age of New Hampshire keeps getting older and older. It also raises concerns about the state’s ability to provide not only the workforce to fill 21st century jobs but attract the young people necessary to raise families to keep communities from becoming overly gentrified.

The center’s report is entitled “Public colleges, public dollars: Higher education in NH”. The PDF version is here.

The executive summary highlights some of the findings, such as the conclusion that overall funding for public higher education “remains roughly equal to pre-Recession levels,” this because of cuts in previous two-year budget cycles and despite the current Legislature’s efforts to undo some of the damage.

But the meat of the report is in its assessment of enrollment data, particularly as it applies to the University System of New Hampshire (USNH), which oversees the University of New Hampshire, Plymouth State College, and Keene State College.Basically, the flow of New Hampshire high seniors to UNH, Keene and/or Plymouth is dwindling. And it’s dwindling because more and more of these graduating seniors are choosing to attend school out of state, and, demographically, there are just fewer of these kids out there. And why are our seniors going elsewhere? A lot of it, the center surmises, with the high cost of tuition.

And it’s not like NH’s colleges and university aren’t trying.

According to the center, the admission rates over the last few years have increased but acceptance rates of decreased.

For example, according to the center, in the fall of 2003, USNH institutions received about 7,000 in-state, first-time freshman applications. Of those 7,000 applicants, about 5,200 were accepted for admissions and 2,350 ultimately enrolled.

By the fall of 2012, the number of in-state, first-time freshman applicants had increased to more than 8,700. Of those, about 7,000 were accepted for admission, but 2,280 enrolled in a USNH institution.

“Although the number of in-state applicants had increased by about 25 percent, the number who actually enrolled decreased slightly, by about 3 percent,” the center’s report said.

In percentage terms, the in-state acceptance rate was 75 percent in 2003 and the yield rate (those who actually went to a state school) was 45 percent.

The acceptance rate in 2012 increased to 85 percent, but the yield rate decreased to 31 percent.

“In other words,” said the center in its report, “even as in-state application and admission rates have increased within the University System, fewer students have enrolled.”

In a nationwide measure, according to the center, New Hampshire is tied with Vermont for the second lowest share of “native” college students who remain in their home state for post-secondary education (42 percent in New Hampshire in 2008, compared to nearly 75 percent nationally).

Population trends won’t help. The center notes that there’s a shrinking student population in the state. And that means fewer in-state students for the state’s higher education system. One study cited by the center suggests the state will see between 400 and 1,000 fewer college degrees awarded annually through the year 2025.

The good news is that the university system’s loss has been, in part, the community college system’s gain.

“Some higher share of students appears to be choosing to attend the state’s community college system, especially since the beginning of the recession in 2008,” said the report.

Community colleges are, not only a less expensive option, but many see their programs as offering a more direct path to a job. Some community colleges have developed partnerships with local manufacturers to create programs that emphasize job skills in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) disciplines.

The brain drain represents an ongoing challenge for New Hampshire educators and policy makers. Graduating seniors aren’t going to their state schools. They’re leaving New Hampshire and they’re not coming back. Fewer and fewer young people are migrating into the state. Instead, the state is attracting a disproportionate number of retiring baby boomers. More and more 50-plus housing is being developed, challenging the future stock of worker housing.

“As the state’s population ages in coming years, developing a highly-skilled, flexible workforce will be essential to ensuring continued economic prosperity and competitive advantages,” the report concluded.

“If increasing college attainment among state residents is part of that strategy, the trends outlined here must be part of the policy discussion. This is especially true if New Hampshire continues to see decreases in the rates of in-migration of educated newcomers.”

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