CONCORD, N.H. — Facing questions from a skeptical lawmaker, Dartmouth College has agreed to provide an annual accounting of how it keeps promises it made two centuries ago to help needy New Hampshire students.
In 1807, the state gave the then-cash-strapped college 42 square miles of land, with the provision that all income produced from it be used to educate students from poor New Hampshire families. In 1883, the Legislature gave the private college $10,000 on the condition it be invested in a perpetual fund for poor students from New Hampshire.
Rep. Renny Cushing, a Hampton Democrat who questions whether the college upheld its end of the deal, filed new legislation to hold it accountable. But at a legislative hearing Tuesday, college officials said they've reached an agreement to submit annual reports to the state. Attorney Robert Donin acknowledged that the college has failed to do so in the past as required under the 1883 law, but he said the college has more than complied with the Legislature's original intent.
The fund created with the $10,000 gift is worth about $190,000 today, and the college spends much more than the roughly $9,000 in income it generates each year on needy New Hampshire students, he said. For the current academic year, 70 New Hampshire students are receiving scholarships totaling $2.6 million.
As written, Cushing's bill before the House Education Committee would fine Dartmouth $10,000 every year it failed to submit an annual report. But he said he will amend it to substitute the college's agreement with the state's bureau of charitable trusts.
Cushing was researching possible legislation aimed at making college education more affordable last year when he began wondering about the land, which is used for timber harvesting and recreation.
Frustrated with Dartmouth's initial response to his inquiries, he said last fall the college was disrespecting the state. He struck a more conciliatory tone on Tuesday.
"This will allow us to build on the longstanding relationship between Dartmouth and the state of New Hampshire, and also ensure that things are done in a consultative manner, and that there's transparency and accountability," he said. "We need to recognize there's an ongoing relationship. Let's reset it in 2016, and hope that we can strengthen it."
Dartmouth's total endowment last year grew to $4.5 billion. Undergraduate tuition for 2015-2016 is $48,120, though it is free for students from families making $100,000 per year or less. That policy — similar to those at other elite universities — has been in place since 2008; the threshold was raised from $75,000 in 2012.