Community colleges rise to the challenge of changing demographics and a shifting economy
Quality education, affordable tuition, opportunities in every region of New Hampshire, career-focused outcomes and a supportive learning environment. These are well-recognized hallmarks of New Hampshire’s community colleges. Add to that agility. Over the years, New Hampshire’s seven community colleges have proven themselves highly agile in meeting the changing needs of New Hampshire’s students, workforce and economy.
Today’s needs continue to include affordability of postsecondary education, pathways to in-demand careers, high-quality programs that provide a strong foundation for transfer to a four-year college and a focus on student retention and success. These are core mission elements of the Community College System of NH (CCSNH). CCSNH is also increasing its focus on lifelong learning and on developing innovative ways for students of all ages to attain new skills and credentials of economic value.
Lifelong learning is an economic necessity in a state where the number of young people entering the workforce is projected to decline, yet the need for people in the workforce with 21st century skills will only grow. Ensuring that New Hampshire’s adults can continue to upskill is a critical part of a strong economic future for the Granite State.
Our skilled labor shortage is widely recognized as the major barrier to business expansion and additional economic opportunity. In the past, New Hampshire benefitted from the in-migration of highly educated people from outside the state. That changed by the early 2000’s. Today, interstate in-migration remains low and is unlikely to return to previous levels. Other challenges include an aging workforce, the continuing out-migration of New Hampshire’s college-bound youth — half of whom leave the state for college — and gaps in educational attainment between rural and metro regions of New Hampshire.
These factors have a direct impact on our workforce and economy, and require New Hampshire to strengthen our focus on upskilling adults presently in the workforce.
More rapid changes in employee skills sets are required today due to significant technological and process advances. These advances have fueled more rapid product and company life cycles. Those with advanced training and education are more productive and earn more.
Data indicate that today’s labor market needs are well-served by the type of programs community colleges offer — the challenge is to expand these opportunities and programs. Only 1.2 percent of associate degree holders in New Hampshire in the labor force were unemployed in 2017, compared to 3.7 percent for those with only a high school degree, 2.6 percent for all workers and 1.9 percent for those with a bachelor’s degree or higher. For those associate degree holders 44 years old or younger who are in the labor force, the unemployment rate is below 0.5 percent. Workers in New Hampshire with an associate degree who work full-time earn, on average, over $52,000 annually, 30 percent more than those who only completed high school.
New Hampshire has adopted the “65 by 25” goal, which is to have 65 percent of adults in the state with some education and training post high school by 2025. The goal is based on achieving a level of productivity that supports key economic indicators. Currently, 50 percent of New Hampshire’s labor force have a college degree, leaving a gap that New Hampshire’s community colleges, alongside other entities, are working to fill.
Innovations such as ApprenticeshipNH offer pathways to in-demand careers and up-skilling via a mix of on-the-job and classroom-based learning. Through the ApprenticeshipNH effort, New Hampshire’s community colleges are connecting employers in need of skilled employees with individuals in New Hampshire seeking on-ramps to opportunity, and the “earn-while-you-learn” model makes it financially feasible to change careers or re-enter the workforce without a loss of income. CCSNH is also engaged through the Sector Partnership Initiative to focus employers on training resources in advanced manufacturing, health care, IT and hospitality — key industry sectors that drive NH’s economy and provide employment opportunities for residents.
To get to 65 by 25, NH needs to focus on upskilling current workers and addressing the gap in educational achievement between rural and metro areas of the state. The community colleges are building enrollment and success strategies for these crucial segments of Granite Staters who will play an essential role in bringing us closer to the 65 by 25 goal.
Want to learn more? If you’re interested in exploring apprenticeships to help strengthen your workforce, go to apprenticeshipnh.org. Numerous other customized training opportunities are available through all of New Hampshire’s community colleges. Business training partners at each college can be reached through