Beefing up NH’s workforce requires investment

We can’t afford to lose the next generation of highly skilled workers to other states

Over the last year, I’ve enjoyed meeting with employers across New Hampshire at business roundtables and chamber of commerce meetings, and I am encouraged to know that our partnership is strong and focused on the same goal: making sure that the state’s public colleges and universities are focused on preparing a highly skilled workforce that is in step with the unique needs of our economy.

In fact, from the North Country to Nashua, the impending shortage of college-educated workers is the primary concern of businesses. 

The data is clear. In-migration of employees has flattened and our current workforce is aging. Compounding the problem, New Hampshire now exports the highest percentage of four-year college-going students in the nation, with almost 60 percent leaving the state to attend college elsewhere.

At the same time, competition for future workers has become more intense than ever. Our neighboring states are investing more in higher education and offering incentives to attract our students, such as matching New Hampshire in-state tuition. In fact, the University of Maine System has gone so far as to offer in-state tuition to students as far away as California.

Our ability to attract and keep New Hampshire’s students is critical to our state’s future. Graduates who stay and study in New Hampshire are more likely to stay and work in the Granite State. To keep those New Hampshire students in New Hampshire, our public institutions must be affordable, offer a top-quality education and remain attractive to students and parents in this highly competitive education environment. 

As a primary generator of a highly educated workforce in the state, the University System of New Hampshire is a vital part of the workforce solution. We currently award more bachelor’s degrees in New Hampshire in STEM fields than all other New Hampshire institutions combined. We are proud that students who attend a USNH institution have the second highest completion rate in the nation. 

There may be no easy way to address demographics or to turn around in-migration. It is feasible, however, to increase college-participation rates and, as a state, begin to turn the tide by not accepting our ranking as the largest percentage exporter of four-year college-going students in the nation. These are issues we can work together to address. It will require innovation, partnerships, and it will also require investment. 

USNH has focused on leveraging innovation and efficiency to contain costs. As a result, every USNH institution is below the median “cost-of-attendance” among New Hampshire four-year institutions, and USNH has the lowest administrative cost per student of any public system in New England. 

USNH recently proposed to the governor and Legislature the Workforce 2025 proposal, seeking state funding to freeze in-state tuition and to increase workforce focused scholarships for in-state students. It also requests capital support for the biological sciences infrastructure at UNH to expand STEM capacity and address some of the state’s most pressing workforce needs.

New Hampshire cannot afford to lose its next generation of highly skilled workers to other states. It is going to require further investment, continued innovation and expanded education-business partnerships. We look forward to working with our business leaders and elected officials to strengthen New Hampshire’s economy by producing the educated workforce our state needs now and into the future. 

Todd Leach is chancellor of the University System of New Hampshire.

Categories: Opinion