By Ian Aikens | April 4, 2020
One of the many revelations that has come out of the current health crisis is the lack of available hospital beds in the state. True, it is a national problem and not confined to New Hampshire, but how did this come about? As has been written about extensively lately, the culprit is Certificate of Need (CON) laws that force applicants who want to build new hospitals or expand health facilities to be approved by bureaucrats at existing hospitals within 15 miles of the proposed facility. Yes, you read that right: if you want to construct a new health facility or expand health services to serve the public, the hospital nearby has to approve your right to serve the public. Hmm … is it any wonder that such applications have generally been turned down? To New Hampshire’s credit, the legislature did away with the state’s CON laws back in 2016, but the collateral damage persists to this day.
I happened to take a look at recent House Bill 1243 and noticed the same problem again, though in a different area. The bill would have added a clause to the law that no higher education institution will be granted permission to issue degrees unless first recommended by the New Hampshire Higher Education Commission. Obviously, no post-secondary school can go into business if it can’t issue degrees, so what we’re talking about here is whether such schools can open up for business in the state or not. Currently, permission to grant degrees rests with the legislature, but this bill would have given the power to recommend the applicant – if at all – before having the legislature give its authorization. Hence, a double roadblock instead of just one. Fortunately, the bill got bogged down in the Education Committee, as a majority of members felt it was ceding control from the legislature to the Department of Education. The committee ended up recommending “Inexpedient to Legislate,” which is a good thing since educational bureaucrats already have too much political power.
When you look at the make-up of the current New Hampshire Higher Education Commission, it becomes pretty obvious how the system is rigged: the president of New England College, the president of Plymouth State University, the president of United Way of Greater Nahua, the president of Rivier University, a litigation attorney, the president of the University of New Hampshire, a commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Education, the chancellor of the Community College System of New Hampshire, the chancellor of the University System of New Hampshire, the president of White Mountain Community College, the president of University College at Southern New Hampshire University, the president of Franklin Pierce University, a lawyer who was formerly an adjunct professor at the University of New Hampshire Franklin Pierce School of Law, the president of Granite State College, the president of Colby-Sawyer College, the president of Keene State College, and the president of River Valley Community College. See a pattern here?! It’s these individuals who currently have the legal authority to evaluate and approve the plans of any out-of-state institution of higher learning that wants to enter the New Hampshire market. Is this not a bizarre conflict of interest? Does it make any sense? Why would any business allow a direct competitor for its customer dollars to possibly hurt its own business? Obviously, the business is going to find every reason in the book to deny approval.
No matter if they’re for-profit or non-profit or how they’re funded, all schools are still businesses – or at least should be – so it would be too much to expect elite administrators of schools already in operation to approve the entrance of new competing businesses. No one is that noble when such a conflict of interest exists.
To add insult to injury, there are special exceptions for some schools that don’t have to go through this approval process: any institution now granting degrees which has been in continuous operation since before 1775, and institutions of the university and community college systems of New Hampshire. So, the rules don’t apply to schools that have been around as long as Methuselah and government schools.
Instead of protectionist thinking that goes back to colonial times, how about a novel idea: let the students themselves decide which schools are worth attending or not. If investors, shareholders, lenders, donors, and students are willing to take a chance on investing in a new school – risking their own money, not the taxpayers’ – why does a new school have to go through this rigged approval process involving competitors with vested interests and politicians who often answer to special interests? If the teachers turn out to be lousy, the school’s reputation will suffer, and it will have a hard time attracting new students and staying in business. Do grown adults really need educational “experts” to protect them from poor choices?
Is the protection for the students or the elites’ schools? Just as CON laws are once again getting the spotlight turned on them, it’s time to take another look at educational paternalism and monopoly privileges and end the racket.
Bosse, Grant D. (2012, February). Do Certificate of Need laws reduce costs or hurt patients? Retrieved from www.jbartlett.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/Irrational-Certificate-of-Need-Laws.pdf
LegiScan. (2020). HB1243: Relative to the degree-granting authority of an educational institution in New Hampshire. Retrieved from legiscan.com/NH/bill/HB1243/2020
New Hampshire Department of Education. (2020). Higher Education Commission Members. Retrieved from www.education.nh.gov/who-we-are/higher-education-commission/higher-education-commission-members
New Hampshire Revised Statutes Annotated (2019, August 24). The State and Its Government – Department of Education – Chapter 21-N. Retrieved from www.gencourt.state.nh.us/rsa/html/I/21-N/21-N-8-a.htm
Wikipedia. (2020, April 1). Certificate of Need. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Certificate_of_need