A call to action on education

We must boost the number of students who attend state colleges

Experts estimate that the percentage of New Hampshire jobs requiring postsecondary credentials will approach 68 percent by 2020. To meet this challenge, a statewide goal has been set, whereby 65 percent of the population would hold a postsecondary credential or degree by 2025. 

With competitor states ramping up their efforts to develop a workforce holding postsecondary credentials, New Hampshire risks relegation to the economic backwater if the status quo beats back calls to action. 

Forty-six distinguished leaders from both the public and private sectors have already signed onto that goal through their membership in the NH Coalition for Business and Education. The coalition chair, Tom Raffio, CEO of Delta Dental – who also chairs the state Board of Education – has indicated that “the 65/25 goal will be the overarching direction for the coalition going forward, and will include all the education stepping stones that lead to college, including early childhood learning and secondary school education.”

Reaching 65 percent from our current rate of about 45 percent will require adding about 95,500 people with post-secondary credentials by 2025. If we do nothing differently, our current rate will increase very little.

Unfortunately, our historically strong ability to attract educated individuals from outside New Hampshire has leveled and roughly 4,000 of the 7,000 graduates of our public high schools seeking a four-year degree attend higher education institutions outside the state. Less than half of them return to live and work here. Of the 2,100 hundred students who attend public colleges in New Hampshire, approximately 70 percent will remain to live and work in their native state, suggesting a strategy to retain more residents outlined below.

For those seeking other than a four-year degree, the news is much better. Of the 3,500 high school graduates initially seeking other than a four-year degree, well over half attend a college in the community college system, with a much higher propensity to remain here, with many transferring on to a campus of the University System of New Hampshire.

Clearly, increasing the percentage of our high school graduates attending public colleges and universities in this state offers the most promising strategy toward accomplishing the 65/25 goal.

To that end, I have filed legislation creating a scholarship program. Named after Molly and Gen. John Stark, through whose heroism our state was created, the program will guarantee half-tuition scholarships for three years at any public higher education institution in the Granite State to those graduating in the top 20 percent of their New Hampshire public high school class. 

The legislation is intended as a starting point to spark discussion as to how we climb this mountain of a challenge. Yes, it will require a financial investment, the size of which will depend on the parameters of the final program package. But we must compare this cost with the economic loss the state faces if we choose not to compete with other states who are actively pursuing the same type of goal. 

To succeed, this must be a bipartisan effort. Failure to close the looming skill deficit of 15 to 25 percent will negatively affect every New Hampshire resident regardless of party and political persuasion. Embracing the status quo will deny us the summit we must reach to be competitive in the 21st century and leave unfulfilled our generational responsibility to those following us.

Democrat Wayne Burton of Durham is a member of the NH House.

Categories: Opinion