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John O. Harney, Executive Editor, The New England Journal of Higher Education
jharney [at] nebhe [dot] org
BOSTON — Noting that the relative economic health of the New England higher education enterprise is often difficult to discern, a key regional journal has launched an effort to develop a reliable set of indicators to periodically measure the vitality of this crucial New England industry.
The new issue of Connection: New England’s Journal of Higher Education and Economic Development examines the economic condition of New England higher education with a look at six broad areas: college enrollment, state support of higher education, private support of higher education including endowment growth, student financial aid, academic research and development (R&D) and library holdings.
“If the region’s policymakers, academic leaders, business people, philanthropists, and others are to allocate resources wisely, they need a sound way to check New England higher education’s vital signs,” writes Connection Executive Editor John O. Harney.
Connection is the quarterly journal of the New England Board of Higher Education (NEBHE) — and America’s only regional journal on higher education and the economy.
Among key findings:
• Enrollment at New England’s 260 colleges and universities peaked at more than 827,000 in 1992, then declined to under 802,000 by 1995. In addition, New England’s share of total U.S. college enrollment has decreased from 6.4 percent in the mid 1980s to 5.7 percent today.
• Even as higher education opportunities have spread geographically, the notion of “College in New England” has retained a sort of magic. Today, New England campuses attract nearly 39,000 foreign students — almost 9 percent of all foreign students in the United States. In addition, fully 20 percent of the students enrolled on New England campuses travel to the region from other parts of the United States. Notably, however, foreign enrollment growth has flattened out nationally and in New England.
• Living in the shadows of such prestigious private institutions as Harvard and Yale, New England’s public colleges and universities have a history of undernourishment. Now, new data suggests that their state funding has grown at less than one-third the rate of public institutions nationally over the past decade. The 50 states appropriated $49.4 billion in tax funds for higher education operating expenses (including state grant aid) in fiscal 1998, up 55 percent from 1988. But in New England, total higher education appropriations grew at a sluggish 16 percent to just under $2 billion in fiscal 1998.
• One result of low state appropriations is ever-rising public college tuition. New England’s public four-year colleges tend to charge state residents far more in tuition and mandatory fees than the U.S. average of $2,970. Vermont’s public college tuitions are the nation’s highest. And the University of New Hampshire last year raised tuition for state residents by more than 14 percent to $4,600. UNH President Joan Leitzel recently observed that during the past eight years, UNH’s enrollment increased by more than 10 percent, its degree production increased by almost 25 percent, but its state funding per student, when adjusted for inflation, decreased by 25 percent. “As a consequence, tuition increases, most recently for in-state students, have been excessive,” noted Leitzel.
• Yale University recently completed the largest capital campaign in the history of higher education, raising $1.7 billion over five years. The distinction won’t last long. Harvard is in the midst of a $2.1 billion campaign — and there is a temptation to launch ever-bigger campaigns. But the impact of Yale’s accomplishment will be lasting, with $636 million earmarked for Yale’s endowment, already the nation’s third largest, and $424 million for the university’s venerable, but vulnerable, facilities. (Yale officials also told the Associated Press they were considering using some of the proceeds to fund full scholarships for all graduate students in the humanities and social sciences.)
• All along the pecking order, New England’s private institutions toss about ever-more ambitious campaign goals. When Middlebury College announced a $200 million campaign in October, it had already raised $80 million toward the goal. Gordon College, with an enrollment of about 1,200 students, recently kicked off a $38 million campaign. Gordon’s last campaign raised $18 million in 1989.
• The outlook for private support of New England higher education is mixed. On the one hand, an enormous intergenerational transfer of wealth may fuel an explosion in private philanthropy. On the other, New Englanders give less of their relatively high incomes to charity than people in other parts of the United States; foundations recently have paid more attention to K-12 and environmental groups than to colleges and universities; and corporations tie their philanthropic contributions ever-more tightly to their business interests.
• Nationally, the federal government provided more than $35 billion in student aid during the 1995-96 academic year, while states supplied an additional $3 billion and colleges and universities pitched in $10 billion of their own “institutional” aid funds. Private U.S. colleges have roughly tripled their spending on institutional student aid over the past 15 years in light of eroding federal support.
• New England’s state legislatures allocated just $7.63 per capita in student scholarships and grants last fiscal year, compared with $11.70 nationally. Furthermore, most states put restrictions on where students may apply their state grant aid. Observers have noted that full “portability” of grants would add logic to national education policy by enabling students from states such as California, where a tidal wave of new students will overwhelm existing colleges and universities, to use their grants toward a college education in New England, where flat demographic trends mean at least a few empty seats at all but the most selective institutions.
• New England’s fabled academic research enterprise performed a record $1.8 billion in research and development (R&D) in 1995, the last year for which data are available. And on a per-capita basis, the region still far outperforms other parts of the country in university research. In 1995, per-capita research expenditures stood at $136 in New England, compared with $82 nationally.
• New England’s share of all R&D expenditures by U.S. universities slid from 10.1 percent in 1983 to 8.4 percent in 1995, depriving the region’s knowledge economy of billions of dollars over the period, according to a New England Board of Higher Education analysis of new National Science Foundation (NSF) data.
• From Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., to Quinnipiac College in Hamden, Conn., New England campuses are wiring their libraries for the latest in information technologies. Meanwhile, Harvard and other urban universities are moving vast collections of rarely used books to climate controlled warehouses in lower-rent suburbs, available upon request by scholars back on campus.
Among Connection commentaries, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts President Thomas Aceto explains how the former North Adams State College, on the chopping block less than a decade ago, has raised standards and sharpened its focus.
Marlboro College President Paul LeBlanc describes his college’s bold plans to prepare leaders for the Information Age with graduate programs in Internet strategy management teaching with Internet technologies. “The Internet and network technologies in general have moved us from the age of the personal computer to that of the interpersonal computer,” writes LeBlanc. “This is permitting — and, in many cases, forcing — companies to view their operations in new ways.” Same goes for schools.
In addition, Connection‘s first “Mini-Directory of World Wide Web Sites Related to Higher Education and Economic Development” features Web addresses of more than 100 New England policy centers and institutes, as well as key education and economic organizations.
To subscribe to Connection, send a check for $16 payable to the New England Board of Higher Education, 45 Temple Place, Boston, MA 02111, or call 617.357.9620. Subscribers receive four issues, including the special annual Facts directory of New England colleges, universities and institutes.
NEBHE is a nonprofit, congressionally authorized interstate agency whose mission is to foster cooperation and the efficient use of resources among New England’s approximately 260 colleges and universities. NEBHE programs are principally focused on the relationship between New England higher education and regional economic development.