DURHAM — University of New Hampshire President Mark Huddleston laid out five strategic priorities for the university system during his State of the University address Tuesday.
The five priorities focus on enrollment; branding and marketing; science, technology, education and mathematics, or STEM, education; research and research commercialization and philanthropy.
Huddleston said colleges across the nation are facing issues of enrollment, and New Hampshire may be in an even worse position than some other states, with high school graduation rates on the decline due in part to the state's aging population.
Rising tuition, less support
From 2009-2020, the number of students graduating high school is expected to drop by 18 percent in New Hampshire, he said.
At the same time, higher education remains unaffordable for many families.
Huddleston said over the last three decades, U.S. family income has risen on average about 3.8 percent a year while college tuition and fees have gone up at nearly twice that rate.
While UNH struggles to stay affordable, state support for the university system has dropped 28.1 percent over the last 12 years, although enrollments have remained strong over that same span, rising 21.6 percent, he said.
Huddleston said that even before UNH suffered the deepest cut to state funding in the history of higher education in the nation, with a 50 percent reduction in state allocated funds, it already ranked 50th out of 50 states in per capita support for higher education. In June, much of that state funding was restored with the support of Gov. Maggie Hassan.
As a result, the university system board of trustees froze in-state tuition for two years.
Focus on core mission
Huddleston said the university should stay focused on its core mission as a student-centered, research-intensive, residential, public university.
"We cannot, for instance, remain the University of New Hampshire while moving all or even most of our activities online. We cannot decide to become private, as some have suggested, however little support the state provides, and still be true to our mission. We can't decide that research is too expensive — or that teaching undergraduates is too bothersome — and still be UNH," Huddleston said.
But he said having those core values does not prevent the university from changing a multitude of everyday practices.
Undergraduate tuition remains the primary source of UNH's revenue, Huddleston said, and assuring a steady flow of undergraduate students is the cornerstone of everything else the university does.
To that end, he has asked staff to "relentlessly" focus on the issue, including expanding recruitment areas, designing more attractive materials, developing a better web presence and re-engineering college tours.
Huddleston also addressed branding and marketing, which became a point of contention last year as the university prepared to unveil a new logo.
He said for too long UNH failed to tell its own story effectively, and it must do a better job making a convincing case to the people of New Hampshire for public support.
"We are no longer content to be an undiscovered gem and a well-kept secret. Our new visual identity, compelling as it is, is only a small element of our new emphasis on branding and marketing," Huddleston said.
Student body president Bryan Merrill, 21, a junior, was pleased Huddleston addressed the branding issue.
"It was nice to see him touch on the logo issue. It has been a hotly debated issue for both sides," Merrill said.
Merrill said Huddleston hit the No. 1 point for students, which is affordability.
"Having that be the core discussion of his speech, he hit the nail directly on the head," Merrill said.
Huddleston said more needs to be done to train a workforce ready to drive innovation in the area of STEM, and together with the university system and community college system of New Hampshire, have committed to doubling the number of STEM graduates by 2025.
UNH Cooperative Extension will hire eight new colleagues over the next two years to focus on this area.
"We are the only New Hampshire institution of higher education that offers the full spectrum of STEM education and outreach, providing graduates who actually want to stay here in New Hampshire when they enter the workforce or start their own businesses," Huddleston said. "New Hampshire will reach this critical goal only if UNH successfully drives the process."
In the area of fundraising, Huddleston said they expect to break last year's record-breaking fundraising year as they move into the public phase of a comprehensive fundraising campaign.
Huddleston also emphasized many successes seen by the university over the previous year, including internationally recognized and honored work by professors and lecturers in various departments, the launch of UNH Innovation, and the official opening of the UNH Law School in Concord.