GOP proposes in-state college tuition for out-of-staters who register to vote

By: - January 14, 2022 5:49 am
A "vote here" sign

Under the bill, House Bill 1574, a student would qualify for the reduced rate of tuition simply by registering to vote. (Bill Pugliano | Getty Images)

Four years after the Legislature made voting an act of declaring New Hampshire residency for the state’s college students, some lawmakers are seeking to extend a new perk: in-state tuition.

A bill advanced by a group of House Republicans would bar public colleges and universities from charging out-of-state tuition for any students voting in the Granite State.

Under the bill, House Bill 1574, a student would qualify for the reduced rate of tuition simply by registering to vote, even if they moved to the state solely to study and live in a dormitory.  

The legislation is the latest in a series of bills in recent years attempting to close any gaps between students who vote in New Hampshire and legal New Hampshire residents. And for Republican supporters, it’s part of a long-term goal to eliminate what they see as two categories of eligible voters. 

“If a student is voting in New Hampshire, they have a right to in-state tuition,” said Rep. Cody Belanger, an Epping Republican. “They’re considering themselves a resident. They’re domiciled here. And that’s what this bill seeks to do.”

The state’s colleges and universities have pushed back against the bill, arguing it would create a logistical headache to follow and could cost the University System of New Hampshire substantially. An analysis prepared for the House by the university system found that if all out-of-state students registered to vote, the system could lose $139.5 million annually. 

And Democrats have warned the bill and others before it could act as a mechanism to force college students who vote to incur expenses such as the requirement to register vehicles in New Hampshire and obtain a New Hampshire driver’s license. 

Currently, in order to qualify for in-state tuition, a New Hampshire student must have lived in the state for 12 continuous months directly before attending the school – and must have lived there for a purpose other than attending the university. 

The discount for New Hampshire-based students is substantial: At the University of New Hampshire in Durham, a nonresident of the state pays $33,760 annually, while a resident pays $15,520, according to information on the school’s website.

Taking into account room and board, supplies, and transportation costs, out-of-state students and in-state students can ultimately expect to pay $53,968 and $34,978 per year, respectively, the school says.

That difference could amount to a “tremendously difficult revenue situation for the university,” which currently has a 50/50 balance between in-state and out-of-state students, UNH Director of Government Relations Thomas Cronin testified to the House Education Committee Tuesday.

That, in turn, could force the university to raise its in-state tuition and reduce financial aid, Cronin said. 

“We would largely need to cut financial aid significantly,” he said. “That is more likely how we would address revenue shortfalls. We would increase (tuition) rates for everybody, because essentially everyone would be paying the same rate, and we would have to reduce financial aid availability.”

And the measure could draw students to the state who wouldn’t have ordinarily considered it, Cronin said.

“Certainly it would be an attractor to out-of-state students,” Cronin said. “I mean, this would be a significantly lower rate than they pay to attend some other out-of-state school, perhaps than their local school.” 

The state’s community colleges would be affected as well, said Shannon Reid, director of government affairs for the Community College System of New Hampshire.

Only 6 percent of students in the community college system are currently out-of-state, Reid said, but the proposed law could create bureaucratic headaches. 

“Running those checks to cross-check our student database against the voter database would have to take place very frequently throughout the year as new cohorts of students register and pay tuition,” Reid said. 

Supporters of the bill, like Belanger, say the potential financial impact is outweighed by what he said was the fairness of the act. 

“From campuses that seek to offer fairness to all students, it doesn’t seem pretty fair that they’re going to let them vote, help them vote, help them register to vote, but then also charge them out-of-state tuition,” he said.

The bill has drummed up longstanding debates over whether college students should vote without declaring residency.  For decades, college students were able to vote in the state by declaring their “domicile” in the state; a 2017 Republican-backed law, House Bill 1264, removed that distinction by making domicile for voting purposes equivalent to residency. The state Supreme Court dismissed a challenge to that law by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire and the state Democratic Party in May 2020. 

Rep. Timothy Horrigan, a Durham Democrat, argued that college students in the state should be able to vote without incurring residency requirements – and without accruing in-state tuition benefits.

“Not every state has (student voting laws), but I don’t see any reason why somebody who moved to the state because they’re attending school deserves to have fewer rights than somebody who moves there for whatever other reason,” he said.

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Ethan DeWitt
Ethan DeWitt

Ethan DeWitt is the New Hampshire Bulletin’s education reporter. Previously, he worked as the New Hampshire State House reporter for the Concord Monitor, covering the state, the Legislature, and the New Hampshire presidential primary. A Westmoreland native, Ethan started his career as the politics and health care reporter at the Keene Sentinel.