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Project Title:Public Higher Education Works for New Hampshire—Collaborative Advocacy InitiativeInstitution Name:University System of New Hampshire Innovation Category:Accountability and Advocacy Project Director:Stephen P. Barba, Executive Director of University Relations, Plymouth State University (representing the collaborative effort) Contact Information:(603) 535-2722 , sbarba@plymouth.eduWebsite:
Project Description:In summer the 2012 at the request of its Board of Trustees, the four University System of New Hampshire (USNH) members (University of New Hampshire, Plymouth State University, Keene State College and Granite State College) began a more active collaboration in legislative advocacy aimed at restoration of a near 50% reduction in the state’s appropriation to the System for operating budgets and a continuation of support for capital projects. An associate vice chancellor for government affairs had previously managed legislative dealings primarily through the System’s central office. The new initiative, which formed a government and communications council, required each institution—working autonomously and collaboratively—to develop a robust network of supporters (alumni, donors, businesses, community leaders, etc.) to impact state funding and other legislation affecting the institutions.
  • Build advocacy systems of New Hampshire citizens and civic leaders to help promote the value of higher education to legislators through development of a “grass roots” advocacy base.
  • Create public awareness of legislative action affecting public colleges and universities through media outreach: a series of op-eds submitted by prominent business leaders, System board leadership, the four campus presidents, and students from each institution; and a series of strategic communications to varied constituencies driven to a web presence at each institution for the campaign.
  • The identification of legislation (culled from 700 to 1,200 “legislative service requests” in each year of the legislative session) of interest to higher education, public higher education in particular, or regarding a specific institution. A narrowed list of about 70 pieces of legislation was divided among the institutions for monitoring in the legislature and system-wide follow-up and information sharing.
  • Collectively, the four institutions recruited more than 1,500 advocates (through web registrations, contact forms and phone calls) to help reach out to elected officials, write editorials and letters to the editor, appear at legislative hearings and public forums, or simply share stories of support with friends and neighbors.
  • College officials—presidents, vice presidents, deans, directors, and students—met one-on-one with key legislators to build awareness of the USNH advocacy efforts. One of the candidates running for Governor included restoration of public higher education funding for USNH in her successful campaign, and made it a key initiative of her first State of the State address in January 2013.
  • The 50% cut in state appropriation to USNH was partially restored to 70% in FY 2014 and 84% in FY 2015 in the subsequent legislative session.
  • In the future, the USNH institutions plan to continue building positive relationships with legislators and engaging citizens in advocating for public higher education issues that arise in upcoming legislative sessions.
Challenges/Problems Encountered:An election preceding the 50% reduction in the state appropriation sent a large number of legislators to the capital whom argued that higher education should not a high funding priority of state government. New Hampshire has long been 50th in the nation in support for public higher education, with on average only 13% of each school’s total budget funded by the annual state appropriation prior to the historic 50% reduction. The USNH institutions needed to build familiarity, confidence, and trust with the legislators regarding the value higher education brings to the state’s economy and to the state’s future.
Evaluation Approach:At key junctures of the advocacy campaign, the committee reported back to the Board of Trustees through the chancellor’s office regarding progress on the initiative. In addition to following results of key legislation, the committee met once or twice weekly by telephone conference to discuss legislative advocacy and to recommend strategies to engender legislative and public support for public higher education in New Hampshire. There are also regular email exchanges as information is shared on everything from committee hearings to campus visits by legislators and other government officials. The team especially coordinates the use of the System’s chancellor, board chair and vice chair, the campus presidents, and other highly visible supporters.
Potential for Replication:

Some unique factors made this possible in New Hampshire:

  • USNH was an established entity with the legislature and the four state institutions have a history of collaboration so working together was not an obstacle.
  • New Hampshire is a small state where people tend to know each other.
  • The “Public Higher Education Works for NH” campaign was a high priority for the board of trustees, the four presidents and the chancellor.
  • The New Hampshire legislature has 424 elected members, each receiving $100 per year for their public service. This leads to fewer career politicians.
AASCU Resources:Creating a New Compact Between States and Public Higher Education (2013), American Association of State Colleges and Universities
CEO-to-CEO Contact:Todd Leach , Chancellor, University System of New Hampshiretodd.leach@usnh.edu
(603) 862-0918
Date Published: Tuesday, May 6, 2014