Affordability, access, prosperity among new NHTI president’s focus

Last modified: 6/7/2014 1:11:57 AM
Growing enrollment, enhancing operational performance and promoting programs that support a strong state and regional economy will be the early focus of Dr. Susan Dunton’s tenure as NHTI’s newest president, the board of trustees for the Community College System of New Hampshire said last week when it announced Dunton’s hiring. While the CCSNH as a whole looks to increase access and grow enrollment, keeping two-year technical schools such as NHTI affordable is a critical part of school stewardship, Dunton said.

“Open access and affordability are primary tenents of any and every community college, including NHTI,” Dunton said. “With the economy and the cost of instruction increasing, you have to make sure you have the resources to deliver affordable education and a very high-quality education.”

Dunton’s first year on campus will coincide with a 5 percent tuition reduction at New Hampshire community colleges, made possible by the restoration of money in the state budget. The state’s seven community colleges have frozen tuition in four of the past nine years, though meeting lower budgets meant the schools had to eliminate some courses during that time.

“Because the Legislature made that commitment to us, we have made a commitment to reduce our tuition again so that our students can continue to have access,” said Stephen Caccia, NHTI’s interim president.

The tuition reduction next year strikes an optimistic tone, Dunton said.

“It sends a huge message to individuals who are considering attending college or may be returning to college,” she said.

The tuition reduction was announced in April, at the same time schools said they were focused on preparing more people with 21st-century skills and providing affordable secondary education for career pathways. More than half the students at New Hampshire’s community colleges plan to transfer to a four-year school after graduating or earning some credits. Making the first two years more affordable will help students and families who will pay to continue studies elsewhere for a bachelor’s degree, according to the CCSNH.

Since 2011, one academic credit at NHTI has cost $210. This fall, one credit will cost $200. The school hasn’t raised room rates in three years, and a 3 percent increase in meal-plan costs for resident students was made after years of no increases, Caccia said.

“I’m pleased with the affordability of NHTI, but on the other hand, tuition at the public institutions in New Hampshire is higher than in most states. It’s a little bit of a double-edged sword,” Dunton said. “I’d really like to see us figure us out as a community of higher education institutions how we can do a better job of making college affordable.”

Dunton, who is currently an education consultant with Virginia-based Ayers and Associates, is expected to begin her tenure in early July.

“We’re excited to have her coming in to lead NHTI. She has a leadership team that is going to make the transition as seamless as possible,” Caccia said. “We’re going to get adjusted and start working together to make sure students have accessibility and transferability.”

Three pillars will guide her transition to NHTI, Dunton said. The first is student persistence.

“Any institution, including NHTI, we all would like to be sure more students persisted and graduated and met their educational goals,” she said.

Increasing the school’s public presence is the second, she said. The third pillar is student, school and community prosperity.

“We want prosperity for our graduates, in terms of having an income for a good quality of life for themselves, and prosperity with the region and the community at large,” Dunton said.

Ninety five percent of New Hampshire’s community college students are in-state residents, and the community college system is looking at new methods to cut spending next year. The community colleges offer two-year associate degree programs and certificate programs in career fields identified as having strong labor market demand, according to the CCSNH.

“These schools have always done the kinds of things they are doing now, in terms of work-force development and partnership and industry and being able to meet the comprehensive needs of students,” she said. “Those are the primary talking points and deliverables that are part of the fabric of a community college.”

She sees opportunity in programs such as WorkReadyNH, which helps job seekers and career-builders improve skills and resumes. The program provides 60 hours of classroom instruction in “soft skills,” practices that have been identified by employers as important to workplace success.

“The community colleges have really carved out a very special and very needed niche in terms of being able to be multifaceted in terms of what they can offer to a variety of student populations,” Dunton said. “I’m just very impressed with what I’ve learned so far about NHTI and the attributes of the school.”

(Iain Wilson can be reached 369-3313 or

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