With the process underway to put together the state budget for the next two years, the University System of NH and the Business and Industry Association hosted a roundtable discussion on Tuesday with leaders from some of the state’s largest employers to underscore the critical role NH’s colleges and universities play in addressing the workforce shortage the state is facing.
“We provide the workers that drive the economy of New Hampshire,” said James Dean, president of the University of NH and interim chancellor of the University System of NH, adding that the system is working to try and make tuition as affordable as possible.
Dean said the University System of NH (USNH) received $88.5 million in the last state budget, well below the $100 million it was funded in 2011. In this next budget, USNH is seeking to restore funding to 2011 levels.
Despite five consecutive years of freezing tuition levels, NH’s still ranks among the most expensive in-state tuition and fees for state colleges and universities in the country. However, Dean said USNH provided more than $250 million in aid to NH students during that time. “We cannot continue to do so without additional support from the state,” he said.
“There is a perception that tuition costs are out of control but that’s not true in New Hampshire. We’ve held tuition flat in the last five years,” Dean said. “We increased financial aid. The cost for students to attend our institutions had gone down.”
And the need for financial assistance is only rising. Dean said UNH, Plymouth State University and Keene State College started programs to provide food assistance to students.
In an interview after the roundtable, Dean said the requested budget increase would allow USNH to offer more financial aid to students. “Talent is universal, but opportunity is not. As public institutions, we provide opportunity,” he said. “Talented kids need a shot, and we want to give them a shot.”
Addressing the Workforce Shortage
Mike Skelton, president and CEO of the Business and Industry Association, NH’s statewide chamber of commerce, says the workforce shortage is one of the most important challenges facing the state, explaining it was the top concern raised by business leaders across the state during a listening tour the BIA held last year. “In some cases, it is threatening their future,” Skelton said. “Funding for postsecondary institutions is paramount to this issue. They are the tip of the spear in addressing our workforce issues.”
Dean Kamen, founder of DEKA and Advanced Regenerative Manufacturing Institute (ARMI), which is trying to establish NH as a hub for manufacturing human tissue and organs, underscored how critical partnerships between businesses and colleges and universities are to strengthening the workforce pipeline and ensuring business success moving forward.
Kamen said there were two major challenges ARMI faced. The first was whether it was too early in the development of this technology, which would hinder the ability of ARMI to attract biofab companies to NH and funding. However, he said biofab firms are growing in Manchester’s Millyard and a collaboration between ARMI and five other partners, including Southern NH University and UNH, was recently awarded a $44 million grant from the federal government.
That leaves the second major challenge: attracting the skilled workers needed to grow this biofabrication hub. “When kids leave with a tech degree, it’s like a free pass to go wherever they want,” Kamen said, explaining NH needs to make a compelling case for those graduates to stay or come to NH and create a critical mass of young people. Kamen says ARMI is partnering with educational institutions in the state to make that case.
Other businesses at the roundtable also spoke about the important roles NH’s colleges and universities play in meeting their workforce needs. Anne Tyrol, chief nursing officer at Cheshire Medical Center in Keene, said health care is facing a tremendous workforce challenge. As such, Cheshire Medical Center works with Keene State College to not only connect with its students and graduates as potential future employees, but also with its instructors to provide the training its current workforce needs.
Ben Learned, human resources manager for Freudenberg Sealing Technologies, which has facilities in Manchester, Northfield and Bristol, pointed out that two-thirds of students who participate in internships with NH employers stay in the state after graduation.
Butch Locke, strategic operations director of BAE Systems in Nashua, agrees internships are essential to connecting with students and making them aware of the opportunities that exist in the state.
According to USNH, on average, 2,000 USNH graduates join the NH workforce annually. Out-of-state USNH graduates are twice as likely to stay in NH when they participate in internships and other hands-on learning opportunities while in school, according to USNH. And there are currently nearly 3,000 first-year students attending USNH institutions.
In an interview after the roundtable, Melinda Treadwell, president of Keene State College, said 50% of Keene State College graduates participated in internships and she would like to see that increase to 100%. “We have diverse industries we work with,” Treadwell said, from sustainable product design to safety and health. She said while many employers have internship opportunities, many students don’t know about them. “We need to increase matchmaking opportunities,” she said.
Keene State College retains 77% of students between their first and second year in college and 65% of students graduate within five years. “That’s good, but I’d like to see it even higher,” Treadwell said. She also pointed out that 42% of Keene State alumni live in NH and she would also like to see that increase.
Joe Murray, vice president of government relations and public affairs for Fidelity Investments in Merrimack, noted that Fidelity has a workforce of 65,000, including 7,000 in NH and 1,200 graduates of the University of NH. “No other university system is a better source of students than the University System of NH,” Murray said. “We can’t be what we are without the university system.”
And Murray said more hires are coming out of liberal arts programs, which are a major component of USNH. Fidelity has strong partnerships with the state’s colleges and universities, including employees who sit on several advisory boards and councils at the state’s public institutions, he said.
And USNH wants to create more of those partnerships in order to insure it is meeting the future workforce needs of the state’s employers. “The largest portion of the state budget is generated by the Business Profits Tax, and those businesses need workers,” said Dean. “No other institution does more to bring students into New Hampshire than the University System, and our collective ability to expand relationships with businesses to create opportunities for our students and graduates is key.”
To create stronger partnerships with the business community, Treadwell launched an Innovation Advisory Council, inviting business leaders from a variety of sectors to advise her on the future workforce needs of the region and the state to make sure Keene State College is responsive.
Treadwell, in an interview after the roundtable, said that while the college is doing more outreach to the business community, it needs to do even more. “
Donald L. Birx, president of Plymouth State University (PSU), said PSU has developed seven focus areas that will train the workforce that NH will need moving forward and will help to diversify the region’s tourism-driven economy. As part of this approach, students work in clusters on projects that assist, and connect them with, businesses and communities.
The question now is whether the legislature will pass a budget that increases funding for the USNH. “We’re optimistic they will see the wisdom in doing that,” Dean said.
Skelton underscored the stakes facing the state and its businesses. “The majority of states in the country are experiencing workforce challenges and each one is marshaling resources and upping its game for how to address this issue. We must all be concerned about what we’re doing to keep New Hampshire competitive. The connection between the University System and our state’s businesses is critical to that effort,” he said.
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