INTERACTIVE classrooms inspired by gaming technology. Professors sharing the stage with colleagues teleporting in from all corners of the globe and perhaps other planets. Collaborations on contemporary “wicked” (intractable) problems. Welcome to Plymouth State University, 2071!

Plymouth State proudly celebrates our 150th anniversary this year, a milestone achieved by a tradition of innovation and staying attuned to changing times. We’re busy laying the groundwork today for our next chapters of service to our students and the state of New Hampshire.

Much turbulence may lie ahead, as colleges across the nation understand there is no turning back from profound restructuring. At Plymouth State, we are fortunate to already be five years deep into this difficult process.

Pre-COVID, we already knew that substantial changes were needed, and campus discussions, research, and outside perspectives identified “four tools” to guide us. First-year students now work in interdisciplinary teams to propose solutions to societal challenges, themed general education courses revolve around meaningful issues, open laboratories bring local businesses, organizations, and alumni together with students to work on projects, and capstone projects feature signature work that is important to both students and society.

We’ve responded to the pandemic with a greatly expanded repertoire of hybrid and online courses, which we will continue to refine. They won’t, however, come at the expense of our vibrant on-campus culture, a precious asset that can be a decisive factor leading to degree completion. In-person classes, close student-faculty relationships, and social awareness gained through athletics and student life programs will continue to be distinguishing hallmarks.

The world is transforming rapidly and so is Plymouth State. We just launched a new bachelor’s in climate studies, New Hampshire’s first and one of the very few nationwide. We’re giving students more options to earn less costly degree combinations more quickly, such as our new accelerated dual degree programs in business, communication and media studies, and exercise and sport physiology. By 2071, a three-year bachelor’s program may well be the norm.

Plymouth State’s well-established ability to evolve will serve us well when we celebrate our 200th anniversary. PSU will be known for teaching students how to learn, to mine the vast treasure trove of information that will surround them, and to create and innovate. They will work across disciplines and graduate with flexibility, equipped for a continually advancing workplace.

We’ll be more closely integrated with higher education partners, yielding many more subject matter options and research opportunities. Closer ties with employers will include built-in feedback loops to better meet marketplace demands, resulting in better job prospects for our graduates.

Plymouth State will have expanded the breadth of diversity programming and justice and equity initiatives. Societal funding for students and higher education will be more robust, as it will have become increasingly obvious that education is the great equalizer and the best opportunity for the future of not only our students, but our country.

We will have more centers and partnerships with communities, businesses, and nonprofits, working together to solve problems like climate change. Data analytics and forensics will be further incorporated in many areas of study, and applied research will increase. We will also have an increasing national and student understanding of the value of the humanities.

Learning modules may be “stackable,” resulting in certificates that enable students to strengthen in particular areas, and which can be amassed into bachelor’s or master’s degrees.

There will be more links and dialogues between institutions across the country and around the world, and Plymouth State University, like other successful institutions, will be widely recognized for particular areas of excellence. These are likely to be closely tied to our regional strengths.

The advancement of broadband up the I-93 corridor will provide the northern half of the state with many new options. A confluence of existing natural assets and developing technologies, together with new workforce and educational programs, could give rise to a Silicon Valley-like environment in which Plymouth State will have a key role.

I am confident that these scenarios can come to pass because we are putting our best efforts into achieving them right now, and because they address the challenges we face as a nation.

It remains to be seen whether guest lecturers from Mars will become a reality in the next 50 years, but one thing that New Hampshire can be sure of is that Plymouth State University will continue to be a vital force for the progress of its citizens and communities.

Donald L. Birx, PhD, is president of Plymouth State University and lead author of Redesigning Higher Education. He lives in Plymouth.

Thursday, May 06, 2021
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