Taking the next step

NH institutions innovating higher education

One of the most pressing issues for New Hampshire employers is finding qualified workers for good jobs.

Luckily, the state’s educators are developing programs to help prepare students for those positions — and they’re working to make that education more affordable and accessible. A highly respected community college system and renowned universities give Granite Staters great opportunities to find the right fit. We reached out to two experts who outline how each of their institutions are offering new, convenient options to incoming students in different and innovative ways: 

Dr. Ross Gittell, Chancellor of the Community College System of New Hampshire (CCSNH).

Valerie Leclair, Executive Director of Undergraduate and Graduate Admissions at Rivier University.

Q. What trends do you see developing in higher education and what is CCSNH doing to meet those needs?

Gittell: “We are seeing an increasing need to ‘upskill’ the existing workforce within New Hampshire companies. To meet this need, CCSNH is enhancing support to adult learners and working adults, for example with weekend and evening programs, blended learning, flexible scheduling and on-site training at employer sites. We’re also working to attract more young people to stay in New Hampshire for college and career. This includes working closely with the New Hampshire Department of Education to help students see strong pathways to good jobs and careers in New Hampshire. We organized our programs into Academic Focus Areas aligned with career opportunities. NH DOE uses the same focus areas so students from middle school on up can see the continuum of learning leading to particular careers. We’re also building more dual enrollment options for high school students to get a start on college.”

Q. Tell us about any workforce devel-opment programs that you have initiated.

Leclair: “Rivier University continually works to identify and form strategic partnerships with businesses in the community to offer onsite courses, tuition discounts, and other pathways for students to pursue or finish their degree at the undergraduate and graduate level. Rivier maintains a large internship program with local schools, hospitals, and businesses that places students in the workforce ahead of graduation and provides valuable, real-world, professional experience.”

Q. In what ways are you partnering with local businesses on workforce development?

Gittell: “CCNSH does a lot of outreach to employers and industry associations. We try to remain as attuned as possible to the employment needs of the communities our colleges serve. Almost all of our career programs have industry advisory boards that keep us informed of trends and needs within industry sectors. Some specific examples of training partnerships include new medical assistant training programs that are short-term and combine classroom with on the job training, in place with Exeter Hospital and other New Hampshire hospitals; a microelectronics ‘boot camp’ aligned with workforce needs at advanced manufacturers; and programs in advanced composites and non-destructive testing delivered in short, ‘stackable’ segments that offer on- and off-ramps between education and employment and provide upward mobility within a business or field.”

Leclair: “Rivier University officially launched The Center for Behavioral Health Professions and Workforce Development. The Center serves as a single point of contact in promoting the University’s behavioral health graduate programs, as well as sponsoring speakers and workshop programs for current healthcare professionals, to expand the region’s workforce for increased availability and access to services. Additionally, Rivier’s Employer Partner Network brings in neighboring companies to promote themselves on-campus and become a ‘company of choice’ as the students move toward graduation and eventual employment. This allows students to connect the skills they are using inside the classroom to what’s happening outside of the classroom.”

Q. How do your colleges work together and benefit students as a system of colleges?

Gittell: “Several ways. For example, each college positions its academic and training to meet local needs, and if the colleges can collaborate and share elements of their curriculum, they do. Administratively, we share back-office functions and infrastructure, like IT systems and personnel so that we don’t duplicate those efforts and costs across our seven colleges.” 

Q. How do you make higher education accessible for someone with a full time job?

Gittell: “We offer programs days, nights, weekends and online, and we offer ‘late-start’ courses in a shorter time frame than a typical semester. Many of our non-credit training offerings are short-term programs that can be completed very expeditiously, and we try to focus these on real-workplace situations to make them highly relevant to working adults. We’re also moving more towards block scheduling so students can spend, for example, two afternoons a week on campus and be able to plan work more easily around that.”

Leclair: “Rivier University offers students a flexible schedule with their choice of evening, weekend, online and hybrid format courses, as well as a convenient location in Nashua, New Hampshire. Students will find themselves in a supportive learning environment with dedicated professors who understand the unique needs of adult learners.”

Q. How important is affordability and what is CCSNH doing to keep college affordable?

Gittell: “Affordability is a core mission element for New Hampshire community colleges. We’ve been able to hold tuition increases overall since 2012 to 2.4 percent — this compares to a nearly 20 percent increase on average for the other New England states. Recently, using federal funding, we’ve created ‘earn-while-you-learn’ registered apprenticeship pathways in partnership with New Hampshire employers who need a skilled workforce, and ‘stackable’ programs that have on- and off-ramps that enable students to earn an initial credential that helps them get a good job, and then stack that credential into the next level of education, and so on.”  

Q. What grants, programs, scholarships are available to adult students? 

Leclair: “Rivier University recognizes that furthering one’s education is both a personal and financial decision and offers some of the region’s most affordable undergraduate and graduate programs. Several scholarships and grants are available, and our generous undergraduate transfer credit policy and credit for prior learning program saves students time and money. Office of Student Financial Services staff members guide students through the sometimes confusing world of college costs and financing—from filing the Free Application for Financial Aid (FAFSA) for the first time to identifying financing opportunities to managing educational costs through graduation.”

Q. Do you offer any services for those interested in changing their career?

Leclair: “Rivier University is committed to educating, engaging and empowering students as they pursue meaningful career and life goals. Our goal is to help individuals acquire lifelong career development skills, allowing them to navigate and manage occupational choices and life transitions, being mindful as well of the unique contributions that they can offer in service to the greater community. Rivier’s innovative programs respond to the social, technological and economic changes affecting intellectual and professional life. These programs are effective resources for business, social, educational and cultural development in the region.”

Q. Is the approach of CCSNH the same at larger and rural colleges, and what are the similarities and what are the differences?

Gittell: “Our smaller colleges serve more rural regions, and there are economies of scale that are more difficult to realize, so we work even harder at sharing resources including staffing. All our colleges serve a diverse group of students, in terms of age, background, and educational and professional goals, so we must offer pathways that serve a variety of needs and interests. All of our colleges work to position students to be successful while at college and upon graduation, and our metrics show that we are doing a good job at that. A very high percentage of graduates are employed in New Hampshire very soon after graduation and we rate very well in helping students move up in income quintiles, meaning our programs are economically relevant and effective. And all of our colleges partner with regional employers and other stakeholders, including our local high schools, to create strong pathways to career and transfer success.” 

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