On Wednesday, May 19, 2021, the New Hampshire Alliance for College and Career Readiness hosted a Higher Education Roundtable. The event provided valuable insights on the higher education landscape and key questions confronting New Hampshire. Moderated by Nicole Heimarck, Executive Director of the Alliance, the roundtable featured three panelists with different perspectives and expertise:
- Michael Turmelle, Director of Education and Career Initiatives for the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation
- Brian Prescott, Vice President of the National Center For Higher Education Management Systems
- Joyce Judy, President of the Community College of Vermont
Turmelle spoke about the impact of a shrinking student population in the state and the challenges young people are confronting. He emphasized the importance of helping students find viable career pathways and exposing them to postsecondary options early in their education.
“We’re talking about flexible models for career exploration and developing experience in the field that emphasizes academic preparation, pre-service work experience, work-study skill development and acquisition, a growth mindset of continual improvement in learning,” Turmelle said. “If you can begin to explore the world of higher education while you’re younger … you now know that you can do college work. You know that university is within your reach.”
Prescott, who, brings a national perspective on higher education, identified some common features of successful mergers and consolidations in other states.
Leaders charged with studying and developing proposals for mergers should have “a clear and compelling justification for why merging or consolidating institutions or functions is important,” and “a really thorough understanding of the assets in place as well as the challenges,” Prescott said. Their recommendations should be grounded in evidence, and they should develop clear metrics for success and engage a wide variety of stakeholders as well as experts without a stake in the outcome.
Additionally, leaders should understand that “there’s a need generally to spend money to save money,” he said. “Consolidating systems is going to cost a considerable amount of money.”
Judy described Vermont’s experiences undergoing a merger of its universities. The key to their success, she said, was bringing a wide range of voices into the conversation and keeping clear lines of communication with policy makers. “We needed to make sure there was buy-in and that there were no surprises,” Judy said.
Judy also spoke about why Vermont ultimately decided not to include the community college system in its consolidation. Along with serving a very different student population than the four-year institutions, the community college was in a better financial position to stand on its own, she said.
The committee studying the consolidation was also concerned about national trends. “As they have looked around the country, when there have been mergers of the community college with bachelors institutions, soon the demands and the expectations to meet your bachelors programs quickly overpower and become the dominant force,” Judy said. “And the community college mission and the community college programs get sucked up into the needs of the bachelors programs.”