My Turn: Collaboration is key to New Hampshire’s future

Last modified: Sunday, November 16, 2014
Across the country, higher education, K-12 educators and business leaders are worried about how students are being prepared for the future and what they need to know as they begin their careers. On a global scale, reports indicate we have lost ground to other industrialized nations, which are reportedly more nimble in their adjustments to what and how they teach students.

In New Hampshire, we have very clear warning signals that something needs to change.

According to a report issued by the New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies, our state’s workforce is projected to decline nearly 10 percent between now and the year 2030. Nationally, most other states project growth in their workforce numbers. This is unacceptable.

Perhaps more alarming is the spike in child poverty in New Hampshire. Our state is among the wealthiest in terms of average family income, and we are among the most highly educated based on the percentage of residents holding a college degree. However, a gap is growing rapidly between the “haves” and the “have nots.”

Our state experienced the largest increase in child poverty in the country from 2011 to 2012, with a more than 30 percent increase and more than a 75 percent increase between 2007 and 2012. As our population ages, we are not doing enough to protect our education pipeline. The New Hampshire Advantage is directly tied to these outcomes and it is at risk of unraveling.

The Center for Public Policy Studies conclusion says it all: “We need to do a better job educating our own to support economic activity.”

A quality education provides a ladder to success and a lifeline to climb out of a challenging economic situation. Education offers genuine hope and opportunity to those who are disadvantaged. Business, education and policy leaders, along with parents and students, must be actively committed to protecting and improving our education system. We are all stakeholders in this conversation.

For the education pipeline to produce desired results, our graduates must be able to demonstrate specific skills and competencies that match the needs of today’s complex world.

The New Hampshire Department of Education, led by Commissioner Virginia Barry, is to be congratulated for taking on a number of education reform initiatives targeted at addressing the pressing challenges ahead. Among several reform initiatives is implementation of competency-based learning strategies, adoption of the standards incorporated in the Common Core and improved statewide understanding of student learning objectives.

As presidents of New Hampshire’s public and private colleges and universities, we bring both diversity and individual perspectives in approaching education reform.

However, we are unanimous in our shared praise for the efforts of the New Hampshire Department of Education. Change is never easy and not every reform effort is embraced by everyone. Unquestionably, working to address needed change is more important than ever.

Other programs deserving our collective attention include:

∎ STEAM Ahead NH, a partnership of Manchester schools, local colleges and businesses to ensure graduates have the right skills in science, technology, engineering, arts and math to compete and succeed in the business world.

∎ The “10,000 Mentors Project” by former New Hampshire Board of Education chairman Fred Bramante, which intends to more directly engage business leaders in the education and training of today’s youth through apprenticeship and training.

∎ N.H. Scholars, which encourages middle and high school students to take a more rigorous academic curriculum to better prepare them for college and career. Already 73 high schools are participating and all New Hampshire public high schools are on track to join by 2015.

∎ Smarter Pathways, through the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, is focusing on STEM Pathways through secondary and postsecondary education.

Additionally, we are pleased to see the development of the New Hampshire Coalition for Business and Education founded by Northeast Delta Dental President Tom Raffio. The coalition has created a sounding board for ways to improve public education and will advocate for turning those ideas into reality.

These are all admirable projects that deserve our focus and energy, and we cannot forget what is at stake. The Business and Industry Association of New Hampshire’s recent strategic economic plan concludes, “Business leaders have expressed growing unease about the direction of the state.”

We all share the same goals: identify business needs, make sure that what is being taught meets business needs, and keep our best and brightest right here in New Hampshire. It’s time to roll up our sleeves and get to work, together.

(Tom Horgan is president of the New Hampshire College and University Council.)