Meeting NH’s 65 percent challenge

The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce predicts that 65 percent of U.S. jobs will require some form of postsecondary education by 2020. For New Hampshire, with its technology- and knowledge-focused industry base, the figure is 68 percent.

While New Hampshire is currently among the leading states in higher educational achievement, present trajectories indicate that New Hampshire’s workforce will not reach either of these benchmarks without purposeful and collective action. Falling short will affect the state’s ability to attract and grow business, with long-term effects on the state economy and quality of life.

There is no arguing that the current working age population in New Hampshire is highly educated by national standards. Close to 47 percent of New Hampshire adults hold a two- or four-year college degree, exceeding the national average of 39 percent, placing New Hampshire sixth among the 50 states. An additional 4 percent of New Hampshire adults hold a post-secondary certificate with significant economic value. This puts the percentage of New Hampshire adults with a higher-education degree or a post-secondary certificate with significant economic value at about 50 percent.

But 50 percent is well below the 65 and 68 percent targets cited in the Georgetown study. And New Hampshire’s rate of improvement in post-secondary achievement has slowed in recent years and is now below the US average. Since 2008, the state has dropped from third to sixth in higher education achievement, slipping behind Vermont, Minnesota and Colorado. And on our current trajectory very soon New Jersey will surpass New Hampshire.

Complicating our workforce challenges is demography. There has been a significant decline in the number of educated adults moving into New Hampshire compared to the last three decades of the 20th century. Approximately two-thirds of adults in New Hampshire with higher education were born in another state. If non-native residents were a separate state, they would comprise the highest educated “state” in the nation, while native New Hampshire residents would rank 41st. New Hampshire has not done as well educating our own as we have attracting highly educated people. Many who came here during the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s with high levels of college attainment are part of a large cohort of baby boomers now poised to exit the workforce.

Perhaps most significant is the fact that nearly one in two college-bound students leave New Hampshire to attend college, compared to about one in five nationally. The state has the second highest percentage of high school graduates leaving the state for college, after Vermont. While we would not wish to discourage young people from seeking opportunities where their passions and interests take them, this outflow makes it difficult to sustain a skilled workforce.

How do we reach 65 percent of New Hampshire’s population with the higher educational achievement needed to ensure a strong economy? It will take strong collective commitment along the educational-to-career continuum. We need to increase the percentage of high school students who go on to college, with a particular focus on those schools and regions that trail the state average in postsecondary matriculation. We must ensure strong pathways for students to progress from K-12 to college and career. And we must provide opportunities for adults who either did not attend college or lack a postsecondary credential with significant economic value.

To achieve these objectives it is essential to lower the cost of attendance while maintaining quality, and provide students with attractive and affordable options in higher education here in New Hampshire.

New Hampshire’s community colleges are committed to lowering tuition, and have done so through attention to internal efficiencies and with help from the state. In 2014, with state support, the community colleges lowered tuition. Enrollment increased 4 percent, outpacing the national community college enrollment trend. CCSNH must continue to bend the cost curve if more NH high school graduates are to attend college in their home state.

Likewise, USNH has effectively lowered the costs for state residents by implementing a tuition freeze and increasing scholarships for our students. The USNH commitment to affordability is also reflected in degree offerings through Granite State College, which offers the lowest cost four-year college program in New England.

Equally important are the many new and expanding pathways being created through USNH-CCSNH partnerships.

Working together, CCSNH and USNH have established dual admission options and streamlined pathways from associate to bachelor’s degrees. Starting this fall, a state high school graduate can be dually admitted on a path that starts at a community college and completes at USNH, saving thousands of dollars. Those partnerships not only ensure that credits transfer, but that there are increasingly seamless one-to-one course transfers. These pathways are bringing down the total cost of a degree. The two systems are also working together to meet the growing demand for STEM graduates.

CCSNH and USNH are committed to enhancing our partnerships, expanding our outreach in middle and high schools, and providing pathways to successful careers in the state. This includes addressing targeted populations such as those historically less likely to go on to college because of financial or other barriers, and those who attend out of state because of New Hampshire’s high costs. And it includes aligning programs with 21st century needs, and communicating more effectively about the opportunities for college and career her.

New Hampshire has a strong foundation. A robust future requires that we improve on our current rates of higher educational attainment, and do so strategically to meet our needs. This is the core of our 65 percent goal. USNH and CCSNH are committed to succeed through innovation, efficiency and partnerships, and to working with the state and business community to prioritize public higher education. It is a shared vision and it is imperative that we succeed.

Todd Leach is chancellor of the University System of New Hampshire. Ross Gittell is chancellor of the Community College System of New Hampshire.