CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — More than two centuries after a gift of land from the New Hampshire Legislature helped keep Dartmouth College afloat, a current lawmaker wants the Ivy League school to do more to repay the state’s generosity.
Rep. Renny Cushing, a Hampton Democrat, was researching possible legislation aimed at making college education more affordable when he began wondering about the Second College Grant, about 42 square miles of land in far northern New Hampshire used for both timber harvesting and recreation.
It was given to the cash-strapped college in 1807 after lawmakers concluded that without their help, Dartmouth would “inevitably decline, and be finally reduced to ruin.” There was a catch, however: All “avails and incomes of such land” were required to be used to help educate students from poor New Hampshire families.
When asked by Cushing recently about that provision, Dartmouth President Philip Hanlon pointed out that subsequent lawmakers lifted the requirement in 1919. Two years after that, however, the college created an endowment funded with the proceeds from timber harvesting on the land to be used strictly for financial aid for male students in need from New Hampshire.
In the last fiscal year, the Second College Grant produced a net income of about $257,000, and the college expects the endowment to distribute about $330,000 this year, Hanlon said. Female students receive the same level of aid from other sources of revenue, and altogether, Dartmouth awarded more than $2.9 million in scholarship funds to 84 New Hampshire students in the last year.
“The intent of the 1807 legislature to promote ‘knowledge among all classes of people’ is the cornerstone of a Dartmouth education,” Hanlon wrote to Cushing on Thursday. “It’s not just part of our shared history; it’s an essential and ongoing commitment to the future of our country.”
Cushing, however, said he still has questions, and is considering new legislation that would require Dartmouth to be more transparent about how the money is used and to collaborate with the state. He noted that at least as late as the 1920s, state officials were involved in making decisions about the land, including approving contracts for timber sales.
“The state’s interest clearly was to make sure that young people in the state from poor families were helped with their education. They may have set some money aside in their internal bookkeeping for that, and I’m glad they do, but my question is, are they doing enough?” he said. “The whole purpose of it was to take care of the indigent, it wasn’t to create a cash cow for the college.”
The 1919 amendment allows the college to use for general purposes any income from the land “as may not reasonably be required for the purposes specifically declared in said grant.” Cushing’s take on that is: “If you’re taking care of the needs of the poor students of New Hampshire first, then you can go and make other use of the funds,” and he wants more information about how Dartmouth has done that.
Dartmouth’s total endowment last year grew to $4.5 billion. Undergraduate tuition for 2015-2016 will be $48,120, though it is free for students from families making $100,000 per year or less.
“College costs are skyrocketing, and there’s a huge burden upon families in the state of New Hampshire,” Cushing said. “This was a public investment in Dartmouth. Can we collaborate with Dartmouth to help underwrite the cost of post-secondary education for students from poor families in our state?”