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NH's Community Colleges Prepare for a New Era

Posted: August 19, 2014
by Paul Holloway

As fall approaches, we are reminded that the new school year is about to begin. While the start of a new semester has a very familiar feel, the education industry itself is rapidly changing. Technology brings new capabilities. Shifts in the economy bring different needs, as well as opportunities. Changes in demography and personal preferences require new approaches. It is a public policy and economic imperative that our educational systems move effectively and rapidly to meet these challenges.

In recent years, New Hampshire's community college system has been making systemic changes in how we operate, the goals that we set, how we assess our effectiveness, and ultimately how we help to position New Hampshire residents and our state's key industry sectors to thrive. This type of change requires that we "double up" our focus on student success, affordable tuition and operational efficiencies. It requires risk-taking and resilience, and a new way of holding our leadership accountable based on merit and how they perform towards our strategic goals. We want New Hampshire's community college system to lead the way in meeting the needs of the 21st century. We are focused on aligning our education and training with the needs of industry current and future; working with high schools and middle schools to create a continuum of learning in fields that are essential to our competitiveness as a state and nation; and using data and innovation to achieve effectiveness in a dramatically changing terrain.

If we don't, other states will capitalize on these opportunities, and New Hampshire will be left behind with a 20th century educational system, and the industry base and economic indicators to show for it. If we don't excel, New Hampshire's students and workforce will lack the appropriate education and training to be successful in the new economic landscape.

Our college and system leaders have been charged with bringing about organizational change, and they are being held accountable for achieving key strategic goals. Changes include lowering tuition, which we have done for fall 2014; focusing on new educational and training programs in partnership with industry in advanced manufacturing, information technology and health care; and achieving postsecondary enrollment rates above the national average despite declines in high school graduating classes.

Success requires the commitment and engagement of employees at every level of our organization, and we are gratified to see a willingness throughout the system to change the way we do things. Faculty and staff generate ideas for innovation in the delivery of education, operational efficiencies, and ways to build pathways for students and career ladders for professionals. Our partners in the business community are working with us to support innovation and the alignment of education and training with occupational demands.

Community college hallmarks of broad access to educational opportunity, affordability, and student support will always be at the core of our mission. Making the systemic changes needed to create a successful and sustainable organization positioned for a rapidly changing world is an essential part of our role as leaders and stewards of New Hampshire's community college system. The new paradigm emerging in education is one that offers new tools and resources but also new challenges and demands. Ultimately, our job is to look to the future.

In this respect, higher education is like hockey: those who excel skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it is currently. Working closely with businesses and our colleagues in K-12 education and at the University System of New Hampshire, New Hampshire's community colleges are committed to ensuring a strong future for our students and the state.

Paul Holloway is chairman of the board of trustees of the Community College System of New Hampshire. Ross Gittell is the system's chancellor.

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