(Opinion) State budget invests in New Hampshire’s future workforce

Its meaningful increase in support signals a renewed commitment to public education

Earlier this year, the University System of New Hampshire and the Business and Industry Association convened a group of employers to discuss workforce challenges and to ask the state to invest in our public colleges and universities. Additional resources were needed to support students, partner with employers, and meet the demands of a strong and growing economy.

Gov. Chris Sununu and legislative leadership responded to this call and made education funding a priority. The new, bipartisan state budget provides a meaningful increase in state support in postsecondary education and signals a renewed commitment to public higher education in New Hampshire.

We hear loudly, clearly and consistently from our state’s business leaders that the workforce shortage threatens our future. Addressing this challenge requires collaboration between the state, business community and higher education. Investments are necessary to bring down the cost of education, to develop and sustain innovative programs, and ensure the viability of the educational institutions that serve as regional and statewide economic engines.

The budget passed by the House and Senate includes several priorities to help ease New Hampshire’s workforce shortage. In addition to increased postsecondary education funding for New Hampshire’s community college and university systems, the budget reauthorizes expanded Medicaid, increases support for New Hampshire’s Affordable Housing Fund and invests additional funds to expand access to affordable child care.

With the recent announcement that New Hampshire’s unemployment rate has fallen to 1.9 percent, tied for lowest in the country, these investments by policymakers are well timed and a sign that the work to address our workforce needs must continue.

It’s as important as ever that we continue to build partnerships that help draw and retain the next generation of employees.

Already, USNH is a leading attractor of young talent to our state. Each year, about 11,000 young people from around the country come to New Hampshire because of our public colleges and universities. This is in addition to the 12,000 New Hampshire residents who chose USNH to further their education. In collaboration with the business community, these students are exposed to work and life opportunities through internships and other experiential learning opportunities. As a result, nearly 19,000 graduates from the classes of 2012 through 2020 are working in New Hampshire today.

The Community College System of New Hampshire is another key partner in efforts to grow and retain our workforce. CCSNH serves approximately 21,000 students through traditional classes, high-school dual credit courses and workforce training programs, providing a vital educational bridge between high school, the workforce and USNH. Collaborations between CCSNH and USNH to strengthen and expand degree pathways provide more flexibility and opportunity to learners of all ages, experiences and career aspirations.

These numbers are strong, but we need to do more to retain New Hampshire’s college-going high school graduates to keep New Hampshire prosperous. And we must create still more engaging opportunities for students to experience our workforce and help bind them to the state before graduation.

Keeping tuition as low as possible is essential to attracting even more Granite State high school students to postsecondary educational opportunities in New Hampshire. Over the last decade, USNH has established itself as one of the most efficient public university systems in the country. Despite sharply rising costs, in-state tuition has been flat for five years, and, through investments in financial aid, net in-state tuition has fallen over that time. All this while maintaining strong graduation rates and levels of post-graduate student success. Taxpayers should be proud of this record, and USNH is committed to continuing to earn their support.

The Legislature’s increased investment will help New Hampshire retain more young people and build a broader, stronger future workforce of highly competent critical thinkers, who contribute deeply to our economy, communities and quality of life. We’re proud and thankful to see our leaders in Concord take constructive action to provide resources to allow the state’s economy to continue to grow and increase prosperity for all.

James W. Dean Jr. is interim chancellor of the University System of New Hampshire and president of UNH. Mike Skelton is president and CEO of the Business and Industry Association of NH.

Categories: Opinion