Another View -- Tom Raffio: How can you help meet NH's higher education challenge?
New Hampshire faces many of the same demographic headwinds as other New England states, including an aging workforce, declines in the number of high school graduates, a change in the socioeconomic profile of the shrinking K-12 pipeline with many more students eligible for free and reduced lunch, and an end of the in-migration of highly educated workers and their families that had fueled the economy for decades.
Given these challenges, the New Hampshire Coalition for Business & Education was established by business, education and philanthropic leaders a little more than two years ago with a commitment to improve education in New Hampshire.
The initial focus was to support initiatives such as embracing increased rigor in expectations and accountability for K-12 learning, including innovation and flexibility in delivery of that learning as demonstrated by our leadership in adopting competency-based education and support for early childhood intervention.
While the situation is more acute in New England, there is national recognition of the need to enhance and grow our workforce, highlighted by the Lumina Foundation’s call for 60 percent of the working age population attaining a high quality credential or degree by 2025. This is considered a “stretch” goal, but in working with the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce, we learned New Hampshire’s needs are even greater. In order to sustain the quality of life we now enjoy, we are projected to need at least 95,000 more New Hampshire adults with a post-secondary degree. Currently 47 percent of our adults hold a degree, and it is estimated another 4-6 percent have earned a certificate or credential that provides significant additional compensation.
Moreover, the benefits of a highly educated workforce go well beyond the economic impact. A more highly educated population has lower rates of crime and poverty (and associated need for governmental funding) and higher levels of health and civic engagement. Recognizing these facts, the Coalition approved as its overarching goal: 65 percent of the state’s 25 to 64 year old population holds a high-quality post-secondary credential or degree by the year 2025.
The overall vision for this effort is that New Hampshire’s citizens have the education necessary to meet their life goals, as well as the current and future economic needs of the state. Thus we will strive to not only attain the 65 percent goal, but put in place the stepping stones of an infrastructure that will enable New Hampshire to sustain that momentum for decades to come.
Achieving the goal will take a comprehensive effort and engage leaders from all sectors, creating true public-private partnerships that include a commitment of resources and willingness to adapt new approaches. The higher education community has demonstrated its willingness to contribute, taking actions such as pledging to double the number of STEM graduates, enhancing transfer/dual admission between two- and four-year schools, and building upon long standing efforts to provide credit for prior learning and competency-based education (examples include Granite State College focus on adult learners and Southern New Hampshire University’s College for America). But despite these efforts, more than half of our high school graduates pursuing a four-year degree enroll out-of-state, one of the highest rates in the country, and history indicates they are far less likely to return to New Hampshire.
Starting Sunday, the first NH Leadership Summit will engage senior management from New Hampshire businesses and elected officials on how to address the state’s most critical economic issues. Coalition representatives will share what actions they could take to assist in attaining 65x25. Knowing it will take the support of individuals from all sectors if we are to be successful, we pose these questions:
Can your organization or business strengthen the connections among school districts, colleges, and businesses? Can your organization or business, in partnership with colleges or universities, provide professional development for your employees that leads to certifiable skills and internal promotion opportunities? Can your organization or business sponsor an internship for an individual currently pursuing post-secondary education? Will you contribute to scholarship and grant programs that encourage our residents to pursue post-secondary education here and then “stay, work, and play” in New Hampshire?
Thank you for consideration of ways you can join our movement to preserve and enhance the quality of life in New Hampshire.
Tom Raffio is president and CEO of Northeast Delta Dental and chairman of the NH Coalition for Business and Education.