New Hampshire’s private and public institutions of higher education are rolling out a host of new initiatives, facilities, degree programs and partnerships designed to address workforce needs, while increasing the appeal of each institution in an era of growing competition for every student.
“In New England, and in general, higher education institutions are facing a bleak landscape in terms of enrollment,” says Wayne F. Lesperance Jr., a longtime faculty member at New England College in Henniker who was named president last year. “We have a demographic challenge. There are fewer and fewer young people going to college, and we’re all competing for the same kids. So, if you’re at an institution that is not an Ivy League you’ve got to be scrappy and bold. What is the new thing that’s going to give students a reason to go to NEC?”
Here are how some of NH’s colleges and universities are investing in the future of their students, the workforce and in themselves.
New England College Science Building. (Courtesy of New England College)
New England College
The school had a soft launch for a new B.S. in Nursing last year and will go full speed ahead in the fall. It’s a three-year program operating on a 12-month basis that enables licensed nursing assistants (LNAs) to obtain their RN credential while continuing to work.
The school is partnering with Concord Hospital with others wanting to join, according to Lesperance. “We had planned on having 50 nursing students this coming fall,” he says. “We are already at 111 (as of mid-June), and we cap out at 120.”
The program received a boost through a $2 million federal grant. The money will be used to renovate the NEC Science Building with classrooms designed for training and simulations.
The school is also launching new degree programs in community mental health counseling and a National Security Agency (NSA)-certified cybersecurity degree in the fall.
The most widely publicized initiative, the launch of an NCAA Division III football team, will eventually bring a new $6 million stadium to serve as home field for the NEC Pilgrims. Although the first game is not likely to be played there for two years, the move has already attracted interest. “As much as I love football, it’s an enrollment strategy,” says Lesperance.
Plymouth State University
One of the most prominent buildings on campus, Hyde Hall, will undergo a $32 million renovation that will create a new home for the school’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship cluster of programs.
The Plymouth State robotics program will get a new home in the Draper & Maynard Building, where the entire fourth floor is being rebuilt with funding from the University System of NH, the state and the federal government.
A $2.1 million federal grant will be used to expand the school’s nursing program with bigger and better simulation labs and classroom space to accommodate more nursing students by the fall 2024.
“We’re now taking in roughly 60 [nursing] students per year, and we’re hoping to ramp that up to close to 100 over the next few years,” says Nate Bowditch, vice president for academic affairs.
Rivier University Cybersecurity Center and Lab. (Courtesy of Rivier University)
New online programs leading to a graduate degree and licensure in clinical mental health counseling, school psychology and school counseling will support workforce development in these desperately needed areas.
“The demand post-COVID in these areas has really been amazing,” says Sister Paula Marie Buley, Rivier’s president. “It’s very hard for the state to keep up in educating at the graduate level for these professions, especially in the northern part of the state.”
The school is also creating additional opportunities for on-campus experience through construction of Rivier Village—two apartment-style residence halls that will add 75 new beds to the Nashua campus.
The school introduced a Cybersecurity Center and Lab last fall, offering B.A. degrees in cybersecurity and homeland security, with enrollment expected to surge in the year ahead.
A federal grant of $825,000 to improve rural health care in the state will fund a new simulation lab for the physician assistant program offered by Franklin Pierce University at a location in Lebanon.
“The goal of the progam is to have students return to the rural communities from which they come to provide high quality health care,” says Catherine Paden, provost and vice president for academic affairs at Franklin Pierce University, which has its main campus in Rindge.
The simulation lab will support students in the university’s Master’s of Physican Assistant Studies degree program, providing hands-on situation training focused on conditions that are predominant in rural areas, such as heart disease, lower respiratory disease and stroke.
The school is also launching a new Master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling to meet another ceritical need in the state.
“We’re building this degree program to be in alignment with the requirements of the Council for the Accrediation of Counselor Education and Related Programs,” says Paden. After obtaining the degree, graduates will be prepared to take a state board exam for licensing as a mental health counselor.
The first students are expected to enroll in the program in the summer or fall of 2024.
Keene State College
A $9 million investment from the University System of NH will fund several key initiatives in the coming year at Keene State.
About $3 million will be spent on classroom improvement to convert from lecture-based to group-based or collaborative learning, says Natalie Holder, vice president of finance and administration. Keene State will also hire three additional academic advisers, which student surveys revealed were in demand.
Another $1 million will be spent to enhance athletic programs by creating a dedicated varsity weight room for athletes, separate from the recreational sports gym.
The RedFern Arts Center will receive a $1 million facelift to improve lighting and other amenities; and $3 million will go to demolishing buildings no longer in use—Monadnock Hall and Randall Hall—so the university or its partners can make better use of the land.
A building once used to house married students with children in the middle of the campus was demolished this year. In its place, the school is building an open-air performance space in a grassy, bowl-shaped amphitheater.
St. Anselm College
St. Anselm College’s nursing program is being elevated to a new level. The school announced in July the establishment of the School of Nursing and Health Sciences, the first separate “school” created on the campus since its inception.
It will be housed in a new, 45,000-square-foot building in the heart of the campus, at the site now occupied by Poisson Hall. The school kicked off a capital campaign in July to raise the $32 million to $35 million for the project. “We are hoping to open in time for academic year 2025-26,” says St. Anselm President Joseph Favazza.
This summer, the school cut the ribbon on a new humanities institute that will open in the fall. The Gregory J. Grappone ’04 Humanities Institute was dedicated in the name of a graduate who died in 2015 after a lifelong battle with cancer.
Southern NH University
A school known internationally for its online programs, Southern NH University (SNHU) is also investing heavily in its brick-and-mortar presence in Manchester.
The school’s programs in chemistry and biology received a boost this year through a new partnership with the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (MCPHS), with an eye toward creating a health sciences degree in the spring or fall of 2024. The MCPHS main campus is in Boston, but it has a location in Manchester as well, just blocks away from the Millyard.
The SNHU faculty is also developing new STEM programs in a building constructed for the School of Engineering Technology and Aeronautics that opened in March 2020, just as the world went remote. “That building feels brand new still, because we are really just this year able to take advantage of the opportunities for which it was equipped,” says Cara Procek, vice president of academic affairs.
The school is also experiencing dramatic growth in its computer science master’s degree as well as in three online graduate-level programs designed to appeal to an international audience—master’s degrees in IT and business analytics, as well as an MBA with a focus on science and technology.
University of NH
The state’s flagship university is hoping to expand its digital footprint in 2023 and beyond, starting with the elimination of Granite State College, which was launched in 1972 as a place to house the university system’s adult education programs. It was later rebranded as the home of online education offered by UNH but has never been as competitive in that arena as it could be.
UNH online offerings will now be managed through the UNH College of Professional Studies, which has merged with UNH-Manchester. The Granite State College website was turned off in the spring and replaced with a website for the College of Professional Studies, cps.unh.edu.
“The university system board sees the market for adult online learning is a big market that we should be participating more fully in,” says Mike Decelle, dean of UNH Manchester.