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NHTI President Focused on Increasing Workforce Offerings

Published Friday Feb 23, 2024

Author Catherine McLaughlin, Concord Monitor


Dr. Patrick Tompkins, president of NHTI-Concord, talks with students in the cafeteria at the campus on Friday, February 9. Tompkins has been at the institution for a full year after coming from Virginia in 2023. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

In his first year at the helm, NHTI President Patrick Tompkins focused on learning everything he could about the school.

One thing especially stuck out: “Concord loves this college. I’ve never been in a community that loves its college as much as Concord loves NHTI,” he said. “I feel welcomed. I feel like I’m part of this community. I can’t believe it’s already been a year, but also I feel like, yeah, this is where I live. This is where I work. This is home.”

Empowered by that sense of belonging, he is shifting into high gear in his second year, ready to help Concord’s community college adapt to a post-secondary landscape transformed by the pandemic.

“I was attracted by the need to relook at what we’re doing, to try to keep what is so great about this college and sustain it into the future,” said Tompkins, who spent his career in Virginia’s community college system. “What we have to do is look at our mission and look at our structure, and then find out: Who are the students of tomorrow? What kind of college do they need? And then to align this college in that.”

Dr. Patrick Tompkins, president of NHTI-Concord, walks along the quad at the campus on Friday, February 9.

Like community colleges nationwide, NHTI has been facing steadily declining enrollment, in its case a 40% drop, over the last decade, according to Tompkins. With skyrocketing costs for four-year colleges and with a parched labor market, fewer students are looking for pathways into a four-year university and more are seeking launchpads into the workforce. And, while high school student populations are shrinking in the state, New Hampshire maintains a large population of younger adults without any post-secondary experiences working in an environment that values them.

In hopes of filling that need, Tompkins is focusing on increasing workforce development offerings, like quick-turnaround certifications and apprenticeship collaborations. Because they can be counted toward a degree, they mean students already have a foot in the door at the college if they want to come back to join an academic program when they’re ready.

“Students want to come here, they want to complete a program in a short period of time, get an industry-recognized credential, and then go into the workplace. And many of those students are going to come back to us to take the next level of credential,” Tompkins said.

Workforce development programs also financially bolster the school’s ability to sustain its specialty degrees. The biggest population drops at NHTI have been in general education, programs with higher class sizes and lower operating costs that traditionally helped support more niche programs. Demand is high for specialized programs like dental hygiene — NHTI is the only community college that has a dental hygiene program — but their lower faculty-to-student ratios and resource intensity makes them expensive to run.

“We can’t close down dental hygiene, right? New Hampshire has to have that program. And so we need to find ways to sustain it,” Tompkins said. Credentialing programs are a revenue source that helps do that.

Meeting the needs of tomorrow’s students also means looking frankly at how to make its longstanding offerings more efficient.

The engineering program, stretching back to NHTI’s origins as New Hampshire Technical Institute, is a foundational part of the school, one with nostalgic importance. That didn’t make it immune from low enrollment.

With that program and others, community colleges in New Hampshire are working both with large employers on recruitment and with each other to reduce redundancy.

“We are moving to a much, much, much more collaborative system,” Tompkins said of the Community College System of New Hampshire. Instead of “seven colleges doing the same thing, seven different ways,” schools are sharing resources — made easier by the increased prevalence of online and hybrid courses — and coordinating schedules.

“Maybe one has a morning program, and one has an evening program. Maybe one has a program that starts in the fall and another in the spring,” Tompkins said. “Do we need these programs at every college? Or should there be a center of excellence?”

In a post-pandemic world, meeting the students of tomorrow means, more than ever, providing support outside the classroom for the “whole student.”

With its history of having on-campus residence halls, NHTI has long been an exception to the traditional “PCP” — parking lot, classroom, parking lot — stereotype of community colleges, Tompkins said. While the number of students living on campus never rebounded after the pandemic, the on-campus student community has remained and is a platform for increasing ways to serve students as people, not just as learners.

Adding non-faculty advisors means expanded hours for students to seek guidance and advice. An opt-in, all-hours chatbot named Leroy checks in with students and helps point them to school resources when they need them.

The student center recently opened a restorative room. Designed and spearheaded by students, the space is aimed at providing a place for rest and unwinding between periods of work and study. Replacing what used to be a computer lab, it embodies the kind of pivot Tompkins described, using existing resources in a new way to improve student service.

Tompkins first applied to his new job because a mentor, knowing his personalized leadership approach, thought both the Granite State and NHTI would be a good fit. At the close of his first year, he’s confident that mentor was right.

“I think I can have more impact by knowing people personally, that’s how I prefer to work,” he said. Being at a small school means more opportunities to forge that familiarity. With his office a stone’s throw from the school’s cafeteria, he takes meals alongside students. He said he regularly attends sports games and cited the student center as his favorite place on campus. His colleagues address him only by his first name.

Dr. Patrick Tompkins, president of NHTI-Concord, talks with student RA George Hoffman in the cafeteria at the campus on Friday, February 9. Tompkins has been at the institution for a full year after coming from Virginia in 2023. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

While still adjusting to the meteorological and topographical differences between New Hampshire and Virginia, he and his family, including his ten-year-old son, are fully settled, he said.

New Englanders may have a reputation for being brusque, but beneath what he calls the “Yankee crust,” Tompkins has found an unmatched hospitality.

“Some of those communities in the South are very hard to break into, and you can live there for a long time without people ever really feeling that you are part of that community,” said Tompkins. “We have not found that in New Hampshire.”

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