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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

NH Institute of Art struggles to stay independent

MANCHESTER – Another New Hampshire small college is struggling with financial issues in an era of stagnant enrollment, and debating its future.

The New Hampshire Institute of Art, which has a 120-year history but only began granting degrees in the late 1990s, has been considering a merger with fast-growing Southern New Hampshire University to help it cope with disappointing enrollment that it less than 500. It has put those plans on hold but there’s no long-term promise that it can remain independent, its board of directors said in a statement released Friday. ...

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MANCHESTER – Another New Hampshire small college is struggling with financial issues in an era of stagnant enrollment, and debating its future.

The New Hampshire Institute of Art, which has a 120-year history but only began granting degrees in the late 1990s, has been considering a merger with fast-growing Southern New Hampshire University to help it cope with disappointing enrollment that it less than 500. It has put those plans on hold but there’s no long-term promise that it can remain independent, its board of directors said in a statement released Friday.

“A few years ago, NHIA was on a consistent trajectory of increasing growth, and we invested accordingly for our future expansion. Due to increased competition and other unforeseen factors, that trajectory slowed somewhat and has not yet returned to the level necessary to support our investment. Specifically, NHIA must achieve enrollment growth from our current level of less than 500 students to more than 650 students within five years, in order to maintain our current level of faculty excellence and student experience,” the statement said.

The directors said they would go ahead with a search for a new president for the college.

Signs of financial strain can be seen at a number of institutes of higher education in New Hampshire. Tiny Lebanon College announced last week that it won’t open this fall; Franklin Pierce University in Rindge has dropped several degree programs in the face of its bonds being downgraded by Moody Investment Services; Concord’s community college has laid off staff; and the Nashua campus of Mount Washington College will be shut as it consolidates.

The question of NHIA’s future became public when SNHU President Paul LeBlanc sent a memo to faculty and staff of that school in June, saying a memorandum of understanding has been signed for a merger. A public hearing on Aug. 18 drew opposition from many NHIA alumni and friends, some of whom depicted the merger as more of a hostile takeover.

The Manchester school got an enrollment boost two years ago when Chester College folded, also a victim of cash flow problems caused in part by enrollment, and most of its students to the Institute of Art, but that has not been maintained.

Small colleges that depend largely on enrollment for their livelihood, rather than investment income from endowments or other incomes sources, are facing a squeeze in New England due to demographics: The number of graduating high school seniors is expected to decline in New Hampshire and most of the region for at least the next few years.

Increased competition from online and hybrid courses, such as Southern New Hampshire Universty’s $2,500-a-year online degree program, is adding to the squeeze.

David Brooks can be reached at 594-6531 or by email: dbrooks@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Brooks on Twitter (@GraniteGeek).