High Stakes for Higher Education: NH leaders and lawmakers seek innovative solutions in postsecondary education

Higher education has undergone intense change in recent years, due to factors including demographic trends, workforce demands, student needs, and economic realities. In response, lawmakers and leaders are exploring a variety of strategies and solutions to address issues ranging from declining enrollment to opportunity gaps. Such initiatives are not limited to higher education institutions; many involve collaborative efforts to create strong pathway systems for students that begin in high school or earlier.

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Last year, lawmakers passed an omnibus bill designed to increase access to Career and Technical Education and formed a study committee that began meeting last summer to develop policy recommendations. This January, lawmakers – utilizing significant input from CTE leaders –  introduced HB 1661, which creates calendar alignment requirements for high schools and the CTE centers they partner with through regional agreements  and formalizing requirements for embedded credits.

Along with continuing their work on CTE access, lawmakers have addressed several bills relevant to college and career pathways this session.

  •  HB 1530 streamlines credit transfers between the Community College System and University System for the top 30 majors, ensuring that community college students have clear, consistent pathways for moving to a 4-year program at one of the state’s colleges or universities. The bill’s goal is to maximize the number of credits that students can take at community colleges, while ensuring that those credits will count towards a 4-year degree at a state institution. The bill was approved by both the House and Senate, and it heads to the Governor’s desk for signature. 
  • HB 1575 expands the tuition waiver at the University System and the Community College System to children of a totally and permanently disabled veteran who was a resident of New Hampshire at the time of their death. The bill was signed by Governor Sununu in April. 
  • HB 1218 would merge Granite State College (GSC) into the University of New Hampshire, giving students from both colleges access to in-person classes at UNH-Manchester and online classes through GSC. According to Rep. Rick Ladd (R-Haverhill), both colleges will maintain their distinct missions. Both the House and Senate have approved the bill, and it heads to the Governor’s desk for signature. 

Recognizing the challenges in the higher education landscape, donors have stepped in to fill gaps as well. Last year, the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation teamed up with the Foundation for New Hampshire Community Colleges to create the Gift to the Class of 2021, which provided a free class at any of the state’s community colleges for graduating seniors. Earlier this year, the Community College System of NH received a $1 million donation – the largest private donation in its history – from Anna Grace and Paul Holloway. The scholarship fund established in their name will support students in pursuing affordable, flexible education and connecting them with local careers.

“I ask others to join us in giving to the Community College System and supporting its students,” Paul Holloway, a long-time CCSNH board member, said in a statement. “Community college graduates are on the front lines of healthcare, staffing our police and fire departments and helping all of us live better lives. Making their education more affordable is the least we can do to support and encourage them.”

Partnerships between educational institutions, businesses, nonprofits, and community organizations are also playing a critical role. Manchester Community College has begun partnering with the city of Manchester and the Manchester School District to create pathways for students, and last year the school joined with Gear Up Manchester to host a “summer-camp-meets-career-fair,” that blended academic classes with fun activities and “show and tell” tours of career fields in the community. MCC is currently planning a Summer Bridge program for graduating seniors who aren’t sure about their next step and is working with city leaders on the new “Manchester Promise” program to help students graduate from college debt-free. 

“We have to work together and collaborate with shared resources and shared goals if we are to fill the workforce pipeline for both today and tomorrow,” MCC President Brian Bicknell wrote in a recent Union Leader op-ed. “Partnership is the way forward.” 

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