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Granite State College President, Dr. Karol LaCroix, provided an overview of NH higher education to over 250 attendees at Business New Hampshire Magazine

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Kate Benway
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Granite State College President, Dr. Karol LaCroix, provided an overview of NH higher education to over 250 attendees at Business New Hampshire Magazine’s Industry Forecast

Manchester, NH – Over the last year, a group of 16 New Hampshire college and university presidents have gathered together regularly as members of the NH College and University Council (NHCUC). The gatherings represent significant meeting of minds, as the state’s higher education leaders talk about challenges and opportunities, and craft strategies designed to keep NH higher education dynamic, vibrant and producing well-educated graduates.

A year’s worth of NHCUC gatherings resulted in Dr. Karol LaCroix’s delivery of the Higher Education Forecast at Business New Hampshire Magazine’s January 21 Industry Forecast event. The Granite State College president and chairman of the NHCUC delivered statistics, data, hard realities, hopeful strategies and a candid view of higher education in New Hampshire.

Highlights include:

  • There is a strong sense of optimism about the year ahead among the state’s 27 colleges and universities. The NH institutions serve 70,000 students; 40% are enrolled in private colleges and 59% in public institutions.
  • The shared responsibility of NH higher education institutions is to contribute to the economic growth of the state by producing highly-skilled graduates who contribute to meeting current and future workforce needs.
  • NH’s colleges and universities have not been immune to the intense pressures caused by changes in the economy.  While most of the colleges in NH are non-profit, they all have a bottom line to attend to. To be an effective non- profit, each must be a non-loss organization.  “We are colleges, but we are also businesses” said LaCroix.
  • NH colleges and universities represent a $5+ billion industry that has created more than 18,500 jobs.

Dr. LaCroix discussed 5 central challenges, as identified by the leaders of the state’s colleges and universities:

  • Expected decline in graduates from NH high schools: In 2008, there were 10,505 less students coming through the K-12 pipeline than in 2000. It is expected that the pool of in-state college-bound students will continue to decrease. This  trend calls for new markets to be identified in order to sustain or increase enrollments, especially in colleges with a high percentage of NH students are rely heavily on tuition revenue.
  • Balancing budgets: Expenses in salaries, benefits, and infrastructure will continue to increase and must be offset by additional revenue streams such as tuition increases coupled with expense reductions. NH already has the highest community college tuition in the nation and the third highest public 4-year college tuition in the country. Several of the state’s institutions have eliminated positions, left unfilled positions vacant, and deferred or not awarded annual salary increases.
  • Affordability and access: Affordability is a key component to access. Thus, student demand for federal, state and institutional financial aid will continue. In spite of a projected increase in financial aid, many graduates of NH colleges will leave our institutions with an average debt load of more than $ 25,000, which is fifth highest in the nation.
  • State support for public higher education: State financial support and grant dollars will at best remain constant.  New Hampshire will likely retain its position as last in the nation in investing in higher education.
  • Increasing competition: NH colleges and universities will face increased competition from some institutions wishing to establish a physical presence here in the state and from a growing number of online colleges that are actively recruiting students.  To put this in perspective, the University of Phoenix, a for-profit institution with a strong online presence, enrolled the largest number of students in this country at 224,880. The Ohio State University was second with 48,583 students.  For-profit colleges, which still account for a minority of enrollments nationwide and here in NH, are expected to have an increasing and substantial presence within the higher education arena.

Dr. LaCroix laid out opportunities for NH higher education, based upon collective strategies created by the state’s higher education leaders:

  • New markets, beyond the traditional 18-year old high school graduates, are materializing
    • Older students are flocking to college. Seventeen percent of all college students are age 35 or older, which is up from 12 percent in 1980. Some are enrolling for the first time while others are finishing degree programs they started some time ago.  Others are enhancing job skills and seeking second careers, especially those who have lost their jobs due to the economy.
    • The new GI Bill is providing eligible veterans student aid up to the cost of tuition and fees at the most expensive public four-year college in their state, as well as housing assistance and a $1,000 yearly stipend for books and other materials. There is also a Yellow Ribbon program helping veterans who want to take their aid and apply it to a private college, graduate program, or out-of-state college with higher costs than their aid covers.
    • Many NH colleges and universities are expanding their reach to new students within and beyond NH borders. Alternative delivery modes such as online learning, hybrid classes, weekend and evening classes and satellite locations are becoming common place for many of institutions.
    • A P-16 working group, established two years ago by the Governor, is focusing on the changes needed in K-12 and the higher education community so that more students can be better prepared for college. One measure of success will be an increase in the students who never considered college as an option.
  • It is very apparent that affordability and access are important to NH college presidents.  Both public and private institutions have committed to increased financial aid through more grants and scholarships.  Many colleges have targeted fund raising efforts to increase private scholarships from individuals and corporations.
  • There is also a sense of shared optimism from today’s students (“Generation Y”).  They are more committed to giving back as compared to previous generations. Here in NH, Campus Compact coordinates volunteer programs across the state through which students and faculty have volunteered more than 4.7 million hours of community service with a value of more than $95 million.