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NH Colleges Commit to Increasing High-Tech Grads

Posted: May 15, 2012
by Holly Ramer

New Hampshire's community colleges and four-year campuses are working together to turn out more high-tech graduates, promising to double the number in the next 13 years.

Last year, the four University System of New Hampshire schools and the 11 community colleges awarded about 8,200 degrees and certificates, including 1,100 degrees in science, technology, engineering or math. Under an agreement signed Tuesday, the latter number would increase by 50 percent by 2020 and double by 2025.

"For all practical purposes, we are the pipeline for New Hampshire's future. The NH economy is starting to rebound and we are adding jobs, but employers are telling us, `We need more skilled individuals,'" said Ed MacKay, chancellor of the University System of New Hampshire.

The state will not be able to compete effectively in the global economy or provide economic opportunities for its residents if it doesn't develop a workforce prepared for jobs in computer technology, advanced manufacturing and other industries, he said.

"A high percentage of the current skilled workforce is the result of migration into the state, and that pattern has reversed," he said. "New Hampshire's historical reliance on in-migration is not sustainable. We must prepare our own science and technology workforce."

Part of the collaboration involves a new "reverse transfer" initiative to help students in the university system go back and finish the community college degrees they may have dropped when they transferred, as well as expanding efforts to make sure community college curricula line up with four-year degree programs.

College officials also will work with the state Department of Education on ways to boost interest in science and technology among middle and high school students, said Ross Gittell, chancellor of the Community College System of New Hampshire. And officials will build on existing programs -- such as the FIRST Robotics competition -- and others that bring together students and business leaders.

"We can't stand on our own," Gittell said. "This is very much doing it the New Hampshire way, through partnerships, through collaborations, through close engagement with industry."

Susan Huard, president of Manchester Community College, said about 20 percent of her students are enrolled in science, technology, engineering or math programs, including some who were initially pursuing liberal arts degrees but get hooked by classes such as "Welding for Artists." While the individual schools already are working hard to promote high-tech, the new collaboration will create a more clearly marked "highway" for students, she said.

"They'll be able to see, 'If I start here, I can finish there,'" she said. "They'll know how to get from one place to another."