New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu is proposing the state merge its two- and four-year college systems as a part of his budget plan, extolling the benefits of a more collaborative approach to public higher education.
Sununu, a Republican, said during his budget presentation Thursday that the pandemic accelerated students' need for more flexible learning options. Meshing the two state systems would help create more of these opportunities, he said.
Other states are considering consolidation amid budget strains worsened by the health crisis.
The 11 institutions that make up New Hampshire's community college and four-year university systems have not been immune to the financial fallout of the pandemic.
Todd Leach, the University System of New Hampshire chancellor emeritus, told a local NPR station in October that it anticipated a roughly $70 million budget deficit, in part a product of paying for coronavirus safety measures. Both systems' enrollment declined this fall as well.
Sununu, in his virtual budget address, touched on the problems the pandemic caused the state's higher ed networks. In light of these and more expected enrollment drops, they need to adapt, he said.
Details about the plan were not made immediately available, and the governor's office did not respond to emails requesting comment by publication time Thursday.
However, Sununu said in his remarks he envisioned creating a "seamless pathway" from high school to a two- or four-year degree, and then on to postgraduate professional education. A community college student should be able to easily conduct a research project at a four-year university and a nursing student at a four-year institution should be able to take summer classes at a two-year school, Sununu said. New Hampshire already has transfer agreements in place between some of its two- and four-year colleges.
Each institution would keep its campus and branding, but a merger would eliminate competition among them, hesaid.
Representatives from both systems did not respond to emailed requests for comment by publication time Thursday.
Other public systems are grappling with severe budget shortfalls that the pandemic exacerbated and are also considering consolidation.
The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education is pursuing plans to merge six of its universities into two new entities, one of which would concentrate on online learning and the other on stackable credentials.
And a state committee in Vermont recently recommended several of its public campuses be combined into a single institution.