Youth Retention Initiative webinar emphasizes inclusive narratives, collaboration

Ensuring all New Hampshire young people find meaningful postsecondary pathways starts with adopting inclusive language, Reaching Higher’s Nicole Heimarck explained during an April 12 webinar hosted by the UNH Youth Retention Initiative. 

“Kids pick up on values and perceptions from a very early age,” said Heimarck, Executive Director of Reaching Higher and Director of the New Hampshire Alliance for College and Career Readiness. “Our number one aim has really been to have a broad and inclusive definition of life after high school … Success comes in all shapes and sizes.” 

Heimarck was one of four featured panelists and four UNH faculty researchers who shared findings and insights during the webinar, which explored recent research findings on college vs career, state brand identity, youth-supportive policies, and collaboration. The UNH Youth Retention Initiative was designed to deepen understanding of how youth and emerging adults are considered in efforts to retain and recruit young people.  ​

 Panelists and faculty researchers emphasized several important findings and key challenges in supporting students on their postsecondary journeys while also encouraging young people to put down roots here in New Hampshire. 

  • Messaging around postsecondary opportunities needs an update

Young people and their families need narratives and definitions that resonate with their experiences, faculty researchers Cindy Hartman and Andrew Coppens explained. The college-for-all ethos that came into fashion in the 90s leaves many students feeling marginalized or uncertain.

Educators, counselors, and guardians should be careful not to label postsecondary opportunities in ways that limit students or discount their experiences, Heimarck added. For example, describing a pathway as “alternative” or “nontraditional” may imply that it’s a less desirable option than a two-year or four-year degree, she said.

Similarly, workforce leaders need to ensure their language is inclusive, said Will Stewart, Executive Director of Stay Work Play New Hampshire. For example, the organization recently changed the name of one of its annual awards from “young professional of the year” to “young person of the year,” Stewart said. “A lot of people just didn’t see themselves in that word,” he said. 

  • Young people need earlier exposure to pathways

Young people are experiencing important developmental changes during middle school, said UNH faculty researcher Jayson Seaman. They need exposure to messaging that captures the full spectrum of postsecondary pathways before they enter high school and begin making choices that will affect their academic, occupational, and residential trajectories. 

  • Collaboration is critical

Educators, business leaders, non-profit organizations, and other community partners need to work together to create an ecosystem where all young people can thrive after high school, panelists said. 

Michael Turmelle, Director of Education and Career Initiatives at the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, described how his organization has been creating partnerships around “hyperlocal” career pathway opportunities in communities. Through these partnerships, high school students are earning industry credentials in a variety of fields while working and earning high school and/or college credit, he said. 

Beth Doiron, Director of College Access and DoE Programs and Initiatives for the Community College System of New Hampshire, discussed her organization’s work in bridging businesses and educational institutions, as well as in creating stepping stones between high school, community colleges, and four-year colleges. 

  • Change needs to happen at multiple levels

In addition to grassroots efforts such as the Charitable Foundation is spearheading, New Hampshire needs to enact policies that support a broad range of opportunities for students, Heimarck said, noting that Reaching Higher has been following a number of legislative initiatives designed to increase access to more postsecondary pathways.

“We’re hearing a lot of excitement and seeing a lot of energy and momentum building around (pathways),” she said. “In order to have the greatest success, we really need both grasstops and grassroots efforts.” 

The recorded webinar can be viewed here. For additional information on the Initiative, view the Key Findings report

The NH Alliance for College and Career Readiness is a project of Reaching Higher NH. The Alliance is a diverse and collaborative group focused on bridging policy, communications, and engagement efforts to help all NH students graduate college and career ready. Alliance members include representatives from K-12 education, postsecondary education, business & industry, and the nonprofit sector. Learn more at