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New PSU President: State Isn't Putting Enough Resources Into Higher Ed

Michael Brindley for NHPR

Plymouth State University’s new president has been on the job for a few weeks now, after officially taking over last month.

Donald Birx comes to higher education in the Granite State at a time when college affordability is a hot topic on the New Hampshire primary campaign trail.

He joined NHPR’s morning Edition.

As you know, students graduating from New Hampshire are leaving with the highest debt in the nation. At Plymouth State, graduates have an average debt of about $31,000.

What’s your response to families who say we just can’t afford that?

It’s getting to be a challenge and it’s a challenge for all of us. The best thing I see on the horizon and what I think has been great is if you look at Plymouth State’s tuition over the last four years including the amount of scholarships that have been added to it, the tuition this coming year net of those scholarships is lower than it has been for the last four years.

We’ve heard presidential candidates roll out various plans for how to make college more affordable.

Hillary Clinton wants to increase aid to states to make college debt free, while Bernie Sanders is arguing we should do away with all tuition at public universities and make it free for everyone.

Do you see either of these plans as workable? 

No, I don’t. They’re more political statements than anything else. But I think we do really need a plan and a strategy going forward to help students and their families. I think we’re at that point where if you look at the impact education has had on our economy over the years and the role universities have played as the center as transformative elements in economies, they’re invaluable. We’ve got to figure out a way to make it work and we need realistic approaches that we can afford.

Do you believe the state is putting enough resources into higher education?

Honestly, no. I think there’s maybe been a disconnect between seeing what the value of education is to all the communities of people within a state and the look that maybe it’s a private benefit. I think if we really realize the impact universities have on a state and its population and its economy, I think we’d be much more enabled to invest in education. This really is an investment and I think we’ve stopped looking at it that way sometimes.

What’s on your list of goals for your first year at Plymouth State?

We’re going to try to focus Plymouth into some areas that really tie in with the surrounding community. I’m a real believer in the relevance of education to the transformation of a region you’re a part of. We’re going to work on creating a creative community around Plymouth. We’re going to focus in on five, six, or seven clusters where we will excel in and where we will partner with the community, which would be a roughly two-hour drive around Plymouth. So the students get that real-world experience and businesses and nonprofits will get the activity of students working with them. We’re playing on a global scale now. There’s really no such thing anymore as a regional university.

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