NH Public Policy
New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies

Business NH Magazine: Where's the Next Generation?

Where’s the Next Generation?

Business NH Magazine

August 16, 2013

New Hampshire policymakers have spent a lot of time examining the implications of the state’s aging population—and rightly so. An increasingly elderly population will alter the fundamentals of NH’s economic and social character in coming decades.

But the discussion often focuses on the “senior” end of the spectrum, with an emphasis on health care. Less attention is spent on the flipside of the aging question: the gradual decline in the youth population.

Recent U.S. Census data show NH’s under-18 population fell 7.2 percent between 2000 and 2010, compared to a statewide population increase of 6.5 percent for the same period. Nationally, the under-18 population grew 2.6 percent for that decade, meaning NH (and much of the Northeast) is moving in the opposite direction of the rest of the country. This shift could reshape NH’s policy landscape, including our school system, economy, workforce, and housing market, presenting new challenges.


Between 2001-02 and 2011-12, NH’s education system lost more than 20,000 students–about 11 percent. If this continues, it will likely prompt further discussions about spending on new buildings, staffing, curriculum and extracurricular offerings. So far, teacher numbers have stayed relatively level. But if current enrollment trends continue, school districts will likely have to make hard decisions about staffing given that funds are granted on a per-pupil basis.

School leaders may also find themselves grappling, as many communities already have, with difficult questions about consolidating districts or sharing resources, including curriculum and sports. How would that fit into NH’s tradition of local control of education?

Workforce and Economy

New Hampshire has one of the most highly-educated workforces in the country, with more than 35 percent of working-age adults having a bachelor’s degree or higher. (The national rate is 30 percent.) For much of the past 40 years, though, the state has relied on migration to fuel that educational advantage. In other words, many of our highly educated workers were educated elsewhere.

But with fewer working-age people moving to the state in recent years, state policymakers must ask themselves if our current educational system is equipped to deliver high school graduates to college at rates sufficient to maintain our educational edge, and more importantly, how do we convince those graduates to attend NH schools?

The most recent figures available show that just 33 percent of NH’s 2008 high school graduates remained in the state for college. That’s the third lowest percentage in the country, and increasing that rate should be a priority for state policymakers.

A shrinking youth population today will also translate into a smaller pool of workers in the future. And a shrinking labor force could spell trouble for the state’s economy, as new and expanding businesses prefer locations with many potential employees. Without an injection of new workers, NH’s economic growth will almost certainly slacken, and may even stall. What incentives will help attract new workers to the state?

Higher Education

In 2010, 60 percent of freshmen in the University System came from outside NH–the third-highest share in the country. The state also has the lowest state support of public higher education at $1.38 per $1,000 personal income in 2013, compared to $2.91 for the next lowest New England state and $5.42 nationally. As a result, tuition at public colleges and universities exceeds that in most every other state.

What impact will a falling in-state high school population have? How might those schools attract more NH high schoolers, as well as more out-of-staters, as tuition levels remain among the country’s highest? While the higher tuition paid by non-natives is a financial boon, public colleges are also institutionally committed to educating state residents. Balancing this trade-off–especially with constrained state budgets–remains an ongoing concern.

Policymakers across the state, and leaders in all sectors, should be sure to include the “youth question” in any discussion about NH’s economy. The state’s future depends on it.

Steve Norton is executive director and Daniel Barrick is deputy director of the NH Center for Public Policy Studies, an independent, nonprofit, non-partisan organization pursuing data-driven research on public policy. For more information, visit www.nhpolicy.org