A panel of New Hampshire lawmakers on Wednesday threw a wrench in a proposal by the state’s Republican governor to merge its two- and four-year college systems.
A House finance committee rewrote part of Gov. Chris Sununu‘s draft budget, removing legislative language that also would have unified the systems’ governing boards immediately.
Instead, the lawmakers proposed a commission to study a potential merger and recommend whether the state should move forward with it. An integration would happen by summer 2023, however, on par with Sununu’s timeline.
Sununu introduced the consolidation idea in February as a cornerstone of his budget plan, touting how it would help correct the systems’ unstable finances that the pandemic aggravated further. Enrollment fell this fall at New Hampshire public colleges, mirroring nationwide trends.
He has said the merger would help tackle these problems by eliminating competition among the campuses and streamlining transfer pathways.
While the plan generated some support from current and former state higher ed officials, others felt it was being shoved through too quickly. A slew of former trustees from the University System of New Hampshire and the Community College System of New Hampshire called the merger a “hasty proposal” in an open letter earlier this month.
The two systems “have developed very differently due to their histories and distinctively different missions,” they wrote, instead suggesting a commission similar to the one the lawmakers wrote into the budget bill Wednesday.
The 11-member group would “explore, study, and assess the potential for establishing a collaborative and strategic merging” of the two systems, the budget amendment reads. The commission would recommend legislation for the merger on or before Jan. 1, 2022, if they decide it is needed. The merger would be effective no later than July 1, 2023.
The commission would also serve as a search committee for a chancellor to lead the united system, if it recommends a single leader.
The new bill language sets aside $1.5 million for the committee through June 2023.
The entire legislative package still must be approved by both chambers of New Hampshire’s legislature.
Sununu‘s office did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.