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Education leaders stress need to keep NH college students in state

Union Leader Correspondent

December 13. 2017 11:21PM
Katie Merrow of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation speaks Wednesday at a New Hampshire Forum on the Future Event discussing the creation of New Hampshire's future workforce. (Kimberly Houghton/Union Leader Correspondent)

From left, Sister Paula Marie Buley of Rivier University and NH Commissioner of Education Frank Edelblut participate in a panel Wednesday during a New Hampshire Forum on the Future event at Bedford Village Inn. (Kimberly Houghton/Union Leader Correspondent)

BEDFORD — Less than half of New Hampshire’s high school graduates that are choosing four-year university programs are opting to attend college in the Granite State, according to education leaders.

“This is a huge dilemma for us,” said Todd Leach, chancellor of the University System of New Hampshire. “We have to take this problem seriously.”

Cost is clearly an issue, acknowledged Leach, who stressed the importance of making in-state universities attractive to young adults. This will take not only an investment, but innovation as well, he said Wednesday during a New Hampshire Forum on the Future event at the Bedford Village Inn.

In Maine, there are billboards comparing the University of New Hampshire with the University of Maine in an attempt to keep Maine students and possibly lure New Hampshire students to attend school there, he said.

While other states are making investments and aggressive efforts to hang onto their own students, New Hampshire must do the same, said Leach.

“If we are static, we are going to lose,” he explained.

Now is the time to talk about building New Hampshire’s future workforce, echoed Taylor Caswell, New Hampshire Commissioner of Business and Economic Affairs.

“We, I think in a lot of ways, are really reaching that point of full employment in the state of New Hampshire and yet we continue to see growing needs,” said Caswell. Similar to the state’s tourism industry, Caswell said his department must focus on marketing and branding New Hampshire while collaborating with educational institutions to create successful economic development initiatives.

State leaders are currently working on an initiative to ensure that 65 percent of New Hampshire adults have a high-value credential or postsecondary degree by 2025 — a program dubbed 65 by 25.

“Affordability is essential to get to 65 by 25,” said Ross Gittell, chancellor of the Community College System of New Hampshire.

There are two major barriers that are standing in the way of reaching that goal, according to Gittell, who said there is still a strong negative perception about community colleges and comparing them to vocational-tech schools, and there needs to be more strong partnerships between the schools, industries and employers.

Making college more affordable will be key, but also finding pathways for students to complete their degrees earlier should also be a priority, said Gittell.

“Education is an investment, it is not an expense,” said Sister Paula Marie Buley, president of Rivier University in Nashua.

Last year, Rivier University implemented a unique program — the first of its kind in New Hampshire — that is promising graduates will secure jobs, or else student loan payments or free courses will be offered by the school.

The school’s Employment Promise Program is a partnership program with Rivier students who are given opportunities in career development, career assessment, leadership and community service during their four years at the school — starting on day one at orientation and guaranteeing that invested students will secure a job within nine months of graduation.

If that does not occur, the graduates will receive additional support from the school in the form of payment of monthly federal subsidized student loans for up to one year, or enrollment in up to six Rivier master’s degree courses tuition free.

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