UNH President: Don’t ‘Commodify’ Education Like Wal-Mart

University of New Hampshire President Mark Huddleston says the key to addressing the rising costs of college education is by not turning it into a commodity. Huddleston says pressure to count the cost of an education by graduation rates and job placementstems from New Hampshire lawmakers and President Obama.

In his State of the University address Huddleston, the university’s president said that “we should not yield to pressure to commodify higher education” and that America can’t afford the idea to “Throw everything online, substitute call centers for face-to-face interactions, and award competency-based credits for college-level analogues of GED degrees, all so that our customers can enjoy everyday Wal-Mart prices.”

Huddleston discounted the notion of a low-cost provider argument he hears from state lawmakers. “As I regularly tell our friends in the state Legislature and beyond when they ask why UNH can’t be more like certain low-cost providers, that’s a model I’ll embrace the day I see them drive across a suspension bridge built by an engineer with a degree from Online University of America,” he said to the applause of his audience. “So just making education cheaper is not for me a satisfying option.”

Huddleston did say that the university is working to control cost to make UNH more affordable for students. He brought up the fact that in 2013 he froze in-state tuition after the legislature rolled back funding cuts and that the university has made efforts to bring a more affordable UNH education to the lowest income students, including 50 $5,000 scholarships to community college students who enroll at UNH.

Paul Briand of Sea Cost Online writes that that Huddleston identified five prioritiesenrollment, branding and marketing, science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) research and research commercialization, and fundraising.

On enrollment, which he called “the primary source of UNH’s revenue,” he announced the creation of the University of Choice, “in which we make UNH curricula and research more flexible, more creative, more accessible, and therefore more affordable.”

He also called for an expansion of summer programs to help students speed up the time it takes to earn a degree. Huddleston did not specifically mention the proposed $25 million to improve the athletic facility and football field, but he did say that physical features are how prospective students and the world see the university.

Huddleston recognized challenges related to the economy like state support and the dwindling number of high school graduates in the state.

“Public funding has failed to keep pace,” he said. “State support for the University System has dropped 28.1 percent over the past 12 years. However, enrollments have remained strong over that same span, rising 21.6 percent. So, from a state support standpoint, we are truly educating more with less.”

He also noted that due to an aging population in New Hampshire, enrollments were expected to fall 18 percent.