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  • Staff photo by Don Himsel


    University of New Hampshire president Mark Huddleston talks with Telegraph reporters and editors Tuesday, March 27, 2012.
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel


    University of New Hampshire president Mark Huddleston talks with Telegraph reporters and editors Tuesday, March 27, 2012.
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel


    University of New Hampshire president Mark Huddleston talks with Telegraph reporters and editors Tuesday, March 27, 2012.
Wednesday, March 28, 2012

UNH’s Huddleston looks to the future of higher education in NH

HUDSON – University of New Hampshire President Mark Huddleston said the state’s flagship college is flying into the unknown future of higher education with specific revenue goals and investment strategies.

“UNH is, in some ways, the canary in the national coal mine,” he said in an interview Tuesday afternoon with The Telegraph’s editorial board.

The state Legislature cut the university budget by $32.5 million, nearly in half, last year. But only three of the 50 states approved an increase in public higher education funding last year, Huddleston said.

“Everybody is also on the same trajectory,” he said. “That’s been our real struggle over the past year: how to fund this new future with a diminishing number of dollars.”

Still, Huddleston said he is determined to push UNH through its recent adversity.

“Ultimately, it’s not a choice,” he said. “I care so much about higher education. It’s a challenge you accept. I wouldn’t feel comfortable walking away from it.”

Alternative course options, a diversified student body and a thorough review of its academic programs have been successful starting points.

This January marked the university’s third year in a winter-session experiment, known as the January term or “J-Term” to students, where students take three-week online classes between the fall and spring semesters over winter break.

Huddleston said students have jumped at the experience, and teachers have come on board as well. The university has already doubled its number of courses offered in those three years.

“It has proved to be really popular with our students,” he said. “Students all around the country are gravitating to that instruction, and the faculty is supporting it, too, after some were skeptical at first.”

There is no price differential between the online course and one held in the classroom, but Huddleston said it gives students the chance to catch up on a class in between semesters or fit an additional course in their schedule and it promises a higher rate of return for the university because there is less overhead. The “J-Term” option could also open up more doors for brief study abroad opportunities, which Huddleston said he had success with at the University of Delaware.

A new partnership between UNH and Navitas has brought in some revenue, as well. Navitas is an Australian company that works with North American universities to help recruit international students, Huddleston said, adding the international students not only pay full tuition but also diversify the student body.

UNH currently has 73 students from overseas, many from Asian countries on the Pacific Rim.

“For us, that’s a lot,” Huddleston said. “I used to joke that our undergraduate international students all carried hockey sticks, coming down from Canada to play for the hockey team. But now, we do have a noticeable number of men and women from overseas.”

The goal through the partnership is to bring in 10 percent of undergraduate students through Navitas, he said.

“It will be an enriching experience for the whole campus,” he said. “Our domestic UNH students will benefit just as much as these international students.”

The university is also conducting a thorough review of its academic programs and has more hard decisions to make, he said.

“We’re still not out of the woods,” he said. “We’re going to be looking at everything we do on the administration side and ask, ‘How can we do that thing better and cheaper?’”

Much has been made about the rising cost of UNH and the smaller gap between the university’s in-state cost versus another New England university’s out-of-state costs, but Huddleston said the competition doesn’t worry him.

“People everywhere, in-state or out-of-state, are feeling the pressure,” he said. “Any increase has been onerous.”

Marketing to more out-of-state students would lessen that burden, similar to what the University of Vermont does, Huddleston said. But he wants UNH to continue to serve New Hampshire students, and the administration has worked hard to moderate in-state tuition increases.

In fact, the $32.5 million that state cut last year could have amounted to a tuition increase of $4,650 for every New Hampshire student at UNH, but the university actually raised that number by just $650. Huddleston said that figure is one of the things he is most proud of as president.

“We ate $4,000 a head to try and keep New Hampshire students at UNH,” he said. “I deliberately went back to the public arena in higher education because I have so much belief in that mission.”

Total cost will increase 6 percent next year, to just over $26,000, for in-state students.

However, in order to keep those tuition increases relatively low, there have been cuts and compromises elsewhere.

UNH has frozen salaries for administrators, offered buyout packages to faculty and staff, and eliminated some positions. About 150 jobs are now gone, although only about 10 percent have been lost to layoffs.

Huddleston said the traditional pillars of higher education are “unbundling,” and colleges and universities need to be flexible and creative to find effective solutions.

“We need to be much more problem-focused and work fluidly across academic boundaries,” Huddleston said. “That’s where all the interesting challenges are. We have to figure out how to make those boundaries as permeable as we can.”

Cameron Kittle can be reached at 594-6523 or ckittle@nashuatelegraph.com. Also check out Kittle (@Telegraph_CamK) on Twitter.