Dr. Robert Ronstadt - Zero tuition for community college: is it a win/win for N.H.?

Recently, President Obama proposed making the first two years of community college "free" for all students. Maintain a "C" average, make reasonable progress toward a college credential, and the federal government will pay 75 percent of your tuition with the states picking up the rest.
The president's proposal isn't the first. Tennessee, Illinois (Chicago), Michigan (Kalamazoo), and Georgia have already launched zero tuition initiatives, while others are planned in Minnesota, Mississippi, Oregon, and New Mexico.
All these programs share common challenges, including how to pay for them... e.g., with new taxes, cutting offsetting benefits, lottery income, and/or donations... and how much they will cost given the likelihood of higher enrollments.
Some think the concept of free tuition is un-American and smacks of socialism. Others are open to the idea of free tuition but feel that states are better laboratories for testing what works best.
This latter group has a valid concern. First, Obama's proposal may never be approved by Congress. Second, the diversity and complexity of our higher education system makes it difficult to see how zero tuition will help or hurt a state, especially one as unique as New Hampshire.

Some Higher Education Facts and How They Relate to New Hampshire
Tuition isn't the total amount students and/or their parents pay for college. So "free" tuition does not mean a free college education. In New Hampshire, community college students pay about $6,500 for tuition and fees and an equal amount for books, transportation, food, and other expenditures. That's two to three times more than students pay in nearly all other states.
All colleges are subsidized by direct appropriations, tax benefits, student access to state and federal scholarships, and/or subsidized loans. That includes non-profits, as well as "for profit" institutions. The issue is not whether to subsidize, but how much. In New Hampshire, the subsidy for state colleges and universities is very small compared to other states, whether measured by the amount we spend per $1,000 of personal income, or per capita state appropriations, where we rank dead last among the 50 states.
Enrollment numbers are misleading because only half of all college students actually graduate and the time they take to graduate is longer. A key issue is whether zero tuition will increase the number and rate of completions. In New Hampshire, there is plenty of room for improvement. The six year graduation rates are 20 percent for community colleges and 40 percent for our 4-year universities, among the worst in the nation.

Numerous studies show that more education produces higher taxes and lower unemployment. A congressional study a few years ago estimated that each year approximately 170,000 highly qualified high school seniors were not going to college, many for financial reasons. Unfortunately the report never calculated the lost tax revenues. It's staggering. We are not talking billions, but trillions of lost taxes over the working lives of these individuals. In a nutshell, that's why more education beyond a high school diploma is fiscally beneficial for both the individual and the state.
Unfortunately New Hampshire is extremely unfriendly when it comes to paying for higher education. Our residents pay more for a college education than nearly all other states. An unintended consequence is our state leads the nation in average student debt, $32,795 in 2013 according to the Project on Student Debt.

What zero tuition means for New Hampshire
There aren't many win/win deals in life, but "zero tuition" can be one of them.
First, students and their parents will be better off economically, especially as the savings reduce student debt. The average savings nation-wide are $3,800 under the Obama proposal. But New Hampshire is well above the average, so individual savings will be closer to $6,500, with the federal government picking up $4,875 of the tab for each student.
However these savings will only be realized by students if they stay on a two-year time table for an Associate Degree and a four-year time table for a Bachelor's Degree. Total costs and student debt escalate once extra years are added. Any zero tuition plan must impose deadlines regarding degree completion.
Second, our state will be better off from a strictly fiscal perspective as we create a more skilled and educated population, one that has higher levels of employment and pays more taxes. New Hampshire's ability to compete will improve as we make our state more attractive to young knowledge workers. Lowering the price of a community college education to zero is a first step. Only Vermont charges a higher tuition. The other 48 states have a huge price advantage. In California, tuition and fees average $1,000. In Texas, a student at Austin's Community College currently pays about $2,000 versus $6,500 for a New Hampshire student. Closer to home, in Massachusetts, the tuition (and general fee) is about $2,000 per year. In Maine, annual tuition is about $1,700.
Zero tuition for New Hampshire's community colleges will help keep young people in our state. We need to retain and import budding entrepreneurs, not export them. The same goes for other knowledge workers. Right now our students are leaving the state in record numbers to attend schools elsewhere.

Tailoring the Obama Option and Other Proposals to New Hampshire's Needs
New Hampshire can do nothing and lose students or become a "college friendly state." That choice won't disappear if the Republican Congress kills the Obama proposal. Other states will implement zero-based plans, paying for them with lottery or other revenues. They know the value of being college friendly.
New Hampshire can become "college friendly" by establishing a zero tuition program for its community college students and by reducing tuition and fees at our 4-year public universities, which frankly are over-priced compared to other state systems.
As a first step, our leaders need to determine the likely number of students who will enroll, the staff needed to teach and retain them, the funding source, and the amount of funding the program will need given likely higher enrollments, student eligibility, acceptable grades, completion times, and other issues.
Zero tuition is not a "free ride". Zero tuition means our state would return to a place where students are paying 25-to-30 percent of their out-of-pocket costs for a college education. Together let's fashion a program that makes New Hampshire a college friendly state, one that will enrich us in many ways while giving a helping hand to college students who want nothing more than a chance at the American Dream.
(Dr. Robert Ronstadt is a former vice president of Boston University who lives in Gilmanton. He consults with parents and students about selecting and paying for college. You can contact him directly at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. You can also learn more about him and his efforts to help students and parents pay for college at www.robertronstadt.com)

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Froma Harrop - The culture of guns

The second-most jarring scene in "American Sniper" takes place not in the urban maze of wartime Iraq but in the domestic tranquility of Chris Kyle's home in Texas. Disoriented after his fourth tour in the cauldron of Iraq, the heralded Navy SEAL is shown stalking his wife from room to room with a pistol. For a moment, we worry that he has flipped out and is going to shoot her. Turns out this was his playful way of initiating sex.

Foreplay, with a handgun.

The genius of "American Sniper" is its portrayal of a culture obsessed with guns. One expects heavy weaponry in war, but here there are guns all over the placid homefront, too. Guns are not just owned but waved. Guns as personal statements.

It was with complete innocence that I saw "American Sniper" at its release. This was before a politicized war of expletives broke out, pitting the jingoism of self-styled patriots against the ignorance of anti-war celebrities.

Few of the keyboard combatants on either side of this conflict have ever gotten anywhere near real combat. That the war in Iraq was fought by a tiny percentage of military-age Americans is actually one of the movie's themes. That's why Kyle and others had to serve four grinding tours in Iraq.

The Iraq War was sold to the American people on the lie that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction — and on the truth that no one who didn't want to fight it would have to. Take your family to Disney World, President George W. Bush urged right after the Sept. 11 attacks. We're in a war on terrorism, but no one need be inconvenienced.

Set aside inconsistencies in Kyle's telling of his story in his autobiography. This is about a movie portrayal. Director Clint Eastwood digs to the core in showing guns as not just tools for hunting or for protection but also objects of worship and key to a man's identity.

There's the scene where Kyle tries to help a traumatized and gravely maimed veteran regain his emotional bearing. The place of healing is a shooting range, where Kyle coaches him on using a high-powered rifle. The "patient" starts hitting the target and tells Kyle that it's the first time he's felt like a man since returning from battle — as though someone who lost parts of three limbs in war would have something to prove.
And the reality is that a 12-year-old girl could have shot the weapon. Eastwood made a more complex movie than the typists throwing insults at one another could imagine.

My views on gun control have evolved. I used to think that the proliferation of weapons fueled the monstrous number of domestic shootings. Intellectual honesty forces me to note that murder rates in New York City and other places have plunged even as guns remain as available as ever. I still believe in a ban on killing machines — let the experts define them — and keeping all guns away from crazy people.

The bigger challenge is cultural. Buying a weapon of war does not turn one into a warrior. But the gun culture promotes that fantasy, leading twisted minds to open fire on crowds of strangers. You end up with a skinny young man in military costume and orange hair who kills a dozen people at a Batman movie in Aurora, Colorado.

Kyle was gunned down while administering shooting-range therapy to a troubled former Marine. Eddie Routh had been in and out of psychiatric hospitals. His friends and family had been trying to get the firearms out of his house. But Kyle believed in the curative powers of a gun. How tragic the outcome.

(A member of the Providence Journal editorial board, Froma Harrop writes a nationally syndicated column from that city. She has written for such diverse publications as The New York Times, Harper's Bazaar and Institutional Investor.)


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Sanborn — 2014 Year End Residential Sales Report

Another year has come to a close and it's time to review just what the heck happened last year in the residential home market in the Lakes Region of N.H. But let's get December out of the way.

In the twelve communities covered by this report there were 83 residential homes that traded hands in December 2014. That number is up from the 72 sales posted in December 2013. That's good. The average price was also up from $236,484 to $301,452. That's good, too, but try not to get too excited...it is a matter of what's selling in the market place rather than huge increases in home values.

For 2014, overall, there were 989 sales residential home sales at an average price of $312,413. The median price point came in at $205,500. That total sales number is off about 5 percent from the 1,041 transactions in 2013. Still not too bad, though. The average price was up from $300,392 to $312,413 and the median was up from $192,000 to $205,500. Just a note: the $312,413 average for 2014 is still 21 percent lower than the $398,717 average sales price posted way back at the peak in 2007. It will take real honest to goodness appreciation in the market place to get back to that level.

This all points to an improving market but also to the fact that there just are slightly more high priced homes selling compared the lower end. In 2013, 52.7 percent of the sales were under $200,000 compared to 47.8 percent in 2014. On the high end, 25.3 percent of the sales were over the $300,000 mark in 2013 while 29 percent exceeded that threshold in 2014. The number of homes that sold between $200,000 and $300,000 only increased 1 percent, from 22 percent in 2013 to 23 percent in 2014. So the detail is in the numbers.

The total residential sales volume for 2014 totaled $308.9 million compared to $312.7 million in 2013. So even though the average sales price was up a bit, it wasn't enough to compensate for the fewer number of sales. But that's OK, it was still a pretty good year!

The time on the market to sell a home increased slightly in all price ranges with the overall days on market increasing from 138 in 2013 to 157 in 2014. That gives you a couple more weeks to get ready to pack.

Laconia by far posted the most residential home sales with 198 transactions, followed by Moultonborough with 130, Meredith with 105, Gilford with 93, and Alton with 92. Center Harbor had the fewest sales with 23, but the highest average sales price at $588,626. The next highest averages were Moultonborough at $472,944 and Meredith at $456,271. Obviously, the high percentage of waterfronts that were sold in those towns bumped the average up some. Gilford's average sales price came in at $366,407, which is lower than I would have guessed. Guess they need to sell a few more Governors' Island properties?
Looking for more affordable homes? Barnstead had the lowest median price point at $154,750 and an average sales price of $177,238. Belmont also might be a good choice with a median price point of $158,000 and an average sales price of $162,673...

So, it was a great year overall! Let's hope 2015 brings continued increases in overall sales numbers and prices!

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Bob Meade - Consequences . . .

Paraphrasing Sir Isaac Newton, for every action, there's a reaction. On a more day-to-day basis, we can observe that there is a consequence to every decision we make. In most cases, those consequences are favorable, in others, the consequence has a negative impact. For example . . .

Those who desire to make life better for those at the lower end of the income ladder, desire to raise the "minimum" wage to around $15.00 per hour. We are told that everyone should be able to make enough money to support their family without the need to have more than one job or to require some government assistance. Sounds good! But, let's look at the impact or the consequences of such a decision.

— Minimum wage jobs are "starter jobs" that generally go to young people who are just entering the workforce. The jobs often don't require any previously learned skills and the employer can give the individual on-the-job training to fulfill the basic job requirements. In many cases, the employer may hire more of the unskilled than they would people who already have the basic job skills needed to do the job. In a sense, the employer is paying a wage sufficient enough to have the newly hired begin to "learn to earn". So, consequence number one is that the higher minimum wage will, in all probability, diminish the number of entry level jobs that become available. Businesses will expect the new hire to bring established skills and abilities to the position.
— Elevating the current minimum wage jobs to the "living wage" level, will have the impact of dis-incentivizing people. Why study to get into college or to learn a useful trade skill if, right after you drop out of high school, you can begin to earn a "living wage"? The unintended consequence will be an increase in the low income earner base.
— Another consequence is that the consumers will be the ones paying the increased wages, the Social Security and Medicare premiums, the cost of the employee's health care premiums, and so on. The consumer will absorb those costs by paying more for the products or services they consume.
— If the starter wage is raised, one can expect all the labor rates above that position will expect and demand their wages also be increased . . . all requiring the employer and the employee to incur higher costs for all those Social Security, Medicare, and health insurance premiums. The unintended consequence will be that there will be a "tipping point", at which companies will consider moving their operations to a more business friendly country simply because you/we, the consumers, refuse to pay the higher costs that will be placed on all the goods and services we want and need.

Another item that may sound great is the president's call for everyone to be eligible for "free" tuition in community colleges. The consequences of such are enormous. For example . . .

— Why would anyone enroll in a four year college and pay full tuition, when they can enter a community college and not have to pay any tuition? Consider the negative consequences to state and to independent four year colleges when about half of their student population is no longer there. Or, the impact on the community college system that is expected to absorb that shift.
— History shows that approximately 20 percent of students entering a four year college need some form of remedial help. Upwards of 60percent of students entering community colleges require remedial courses. It would appear that providing free tuition at community colleges would essentially be extending the high school years from four to six. Wouldn't it be better to "fix" the problems at the elementary and high school levels?

Another issue is the President previously calling for children to enter a pre-K class at the age of four. He now wants to provide free child care to families so that both mothers and fathers can work.

— Consider the fact that his proposals would basically put someone other than a parent in control of the children from shortly after they are born, until they are in their early twenties.
— Russia employed such a system and in it, the government determined what job training the child would receive from the time they were in elementary grades. The parents had no say in the decision.
— As a partial by-product of government management of individual family decisions, Russian family birth rates dropped to levels that have caused that country's population to basically be cut in half each generation. Russia has a population crisis that is forcing it to try and reconstitute the Soviet Union just to get more population so it can defend its vast country.
— Will our citizens be amenable to the "government" becoming the "parent" of their children?

The President also wants to extend the full "earned income tax credit" to couples who don't have any children, approximately 13.5 million more people. This change is expected to cost over sixty billion dollars.

— Even of more concern than the increased financial aid, is the consequence of us dis-incentivizing the population; taking away the desire to learn the skills needed to earn a better living.
— Where is the motivation when there is no responsibility to provide for one's own needs?
— The more the government assumes the role of nanny, freedom is lost as the government becomes the one that determines the extent of your needs.

History has shown that government cannot effectively direct and manage a business enterprise. In fact, it has shown that it cannot effectively manage and control the bloated bureaucracy that now exists. All these so called "good things" only serve to put us on the new road to serfdom. We will no longer be a government of, by, and for the people. Maybe Huxley's "Brave New World" is the blueprint to our future.

(Bob Meade is a Laconia resident.)

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Mark Fernald - Does N.H. have a revenue problem?

As we enter the biennial budget-writing season in the New Hampshire Legislature, many representatives and senators have intoned that we must "live within our means". This glib mantra glosses over the grim reality: over the past dozen or so years, New Hampshire's population and economy have grown, but our revenue has shrunk. Our "means" have increased, but our revenue has not.

Since 2001, New Hampshire's General Fund tax revenue, adjusted for inflation, has fallen 8 percent. During that same time period, our population has grown 5 percent. As a state, we are trying to do 5 percent more with 8 percent less tax revenue. It's not working very well.

Our university system is chronically underfunded. After adjusting for inflation, state funding for the university system has dropped 20 percent since 2001. In-state tuition and fees at UNH are the third highest in the nation. Our students graduate with the highest average college debt in the nation. Many of our talented high school students choose to go to college out of state because they find that it is cheaper to pay out-of-state rates in places like New York, than to pay in-state tuition at UNH. When our young people seek education in faraway places, we are robbing our future.

To attract business to New Hampshire, we need top quality infrastructure. New Hampshire roads and bridges do not make the grade, particularly when you get off the interstates. The problem is declining revenue. Since the gas tax was last raised in 1991, gas tax revenues have declined 20 percent, after inflation. The 4.2 cent per gallon increase in the gas tax that went into effect last year will make up for most of that decline, yet there are Republicans who are working to repeal it.

The number of full-time employees in our Department of Environmental Services has dropped 25 percent in the past 12 years. We can't protect our environment for future generations without people.

Twenty-five years ago, New Hampshire's community mental health system was held up as a model for the rest of the nation. Repeated cuts over the years have damaged the system to the point that the state was sued last year for underfunding. The state has settled that case, and the cost to comply with the settlement agreement will be significant.

Republicans say we can grow our way out of our revenue problem. The numbers don't back them up. Since 2001, real growth in our state GDP has been 15 percent, while inflation-adjusted general fund tax revenue has declined by 8 percent. Recent experience shows us that growing the economy does not result in higher revenues.

Republicans are proposing to cut business taxes by about $85 million. The have not explained what cuts they would make to our bare-bones state budget. Would the University System take another hit, as it did in 2011-2012, during the William O'Brien years? Will they cut community mental health and environmental protection — again?

The New Hampshire Constitution states that government is instituted for the "general good". It also states that each of us is obligated to "contribute his share" to the cost of government. Republicans are so focused on tax cuts that they have lost sight of the general good, and how we pay for it.
We count upon state government for law enforcement, care for the elderly, a system of justice, and many other services.
We also want a state government that invests in the future by building and maintaining infrastructure, protecting the environment, and educating the next generation.

In 2002, the Republican Party adopted a new "pledge" against any new taxes, any tax increases, any new revenue. The result has been a dozen years of cuts in higher education, reduced staff for environmental protection, and a decline in the condition of our roads. These cuts make New Hampshire less attractive to the businesses and young families that are the key to our future.

We cannot cut our way to prosperity. Every government, like every business, must invest for the future. Our legislature is now controlled by people who have no answer to the decline in State revenue other than to make more cuts. This bodes ill for our state and its future.

(Mark Fernald is a former State Senator, and was the 2002 Democratic nominee for governor. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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