Huddleston reflected on accomplishments, challenges

State of the University Address held Tuesday

By Nick Stoico
On February 6, 2014

  • A grant from the Governor´s Commission has allowed Karin Gosciniski-Benton to provide free and convidential drug and alcohol counseling to UNH students in an off-campus setting. Andrew Sawyer - Staff Photographer

 

In the State of the University address held Tuesday afternoon in the Granite State Room, UNH President Mark Huddleston highlighted the university's accomplishments in 2013, which occurred despite economic challenges and lack of state support. He also presented several new plans and initiatives for 2014 and the near future.

These projects include an updated UNH 2020 plan as well as an expansion in summer and January term programs. Huddleston also focused on UNH's values and how its mission must guide its priorities in the future.

In addition, Huddleston spoke about UNH's notorious lack of state support, a category in which New Hampshire ranks dead last in the nation.

"Seriously, even if we saw a tripling in state support - and I'm not holding my breath for that - New Hampshire would still be 50th out of the 50 states," Huddleston said.

According to data presented by Huddleston, state support has dropped 28.1 percent throughout the last 12 years. The university president did, however, mention the UNH Works for New Hampshire initiative, coordinated by Mica Stark, which successfully pressed Governor Maggie Hassan and state leaders to restore most of the budget that had been cut in 2011 in the wake of a national economic recession.

Huddleston pointed to his participation in a February 2013 White House forum where he announced three efforts on UNH's part to promote college opportunity and accessibility: 50 $5,000 scholarships for New Hampshire community college students to enter UNH, an increase in opportunity for low-income students to participate in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) Connect, and offers of scholarships to academically- outstanding high school students by Project SMART.

Following the address, Huddleston spoke with media members about ways in which the university can help make higher education more affordable and accessible to students.

"That is the single biggest question, not just for UNH, but for all of higher education," Huddleston said. "I can't stand here and tell you I know the answer... I can tell you we are trying to do what we can and that is keeping the cost side of the equation as low as possible. [We are] trying to raise as much private support as possible and thereby endow scholarships and make it less expensive for kids to come to school.

"[Also], by making the case as passionately and as often as I know to our friends in the state that higher education is not simply a private good from which you and I alone benefit, but everybody benefits when you become educated and therefore the whole state has got a stake in whether we succeed or not."

While facing the challenges of ever- increasing living and college tuition costs for families, as well as the continued decline in state support and a falling rate in graduating high school students, Huddleston indicated two things the university should avoid.

"The first thing we should not do is yield to pressures to commodify higher education, turn students into customers and drive relentlessly to lower unit costs of production," Huddleston said. "Pressures to do this are real.

"As I regularly tell our friends in the state legislature and beyond when they ask why UNH can't be more like certain low-cost providers, that's a model I'll embrace the day I see them drive across a suspension bridge built by an engineer with a degree from Online University of America."

The second thing Huddleston said to avoid is a resistance to change. He called on the leaders of the university to do what is right not just for the present, but also for future generations of students. Huddleston said the university must focus on its mission, calling it the "fixed point" as the institution navigates forward. 

Huddleston described the mission: "The University of New Hampshire is a student-centered, research intensive, highly-engaged, residential public institution." And, according to Huddleston, there are certain things that the university can and cannot do if it is to remain sincere to this mission.

"We cannot, for instance, remain the University of New Hampshire while moving all or even most of our activities online," Huddleston said. "We cannot decide to become private, as some have suggested, however little support the state provides, and still be true to our mission. We can't decide that research is too expensive or that teaching undergraduates is too bothersome and still be UNH. Having our core values is limiting. It is meant to be limiting."

Huddleston said he will entrust UNH Provost Lisa MacFarlane with the responsibility of updating the UNH 2020 plan (constructed in 2009) to reflect recent accomplishments as well as new and necessary commitments. 

The president identified five priorities that must be considered in this plan: enrollment, branding and marketing, STEM education, research and, finally, philanthropy.

Regarding enrollment, Huddleston said that the overall UNH experience needs to be enhanced to attract prospective students. Undergrad tuition is the primary source of UNH's revenue and keeping a steady flow of "qualified undergraduates" is necessary, as is expanding enrollment in summer and J-term programs. 

According to Huddleston, the deans of each college will be focusing on an effort this spring called University of Choice, which will comprise several ways to make UNH more creative, flexible and accessible in its curriculum and research. Along with this new initiative, Huddleston pointed out that facilities would play "a critical role" in making UNH the place students want to attend.

"Our physical plant is literally how the world, including our prospective students, sees us," Huddleston said. "While we will never seek to build anything that is not to the scale and purpose of our institution ... to stay competitive, build and renew we must."

Last week, the university announced plans to build a $25 million athletic complex and football stadium where Cowell Stadium currently sits on the west side of the Durham campus. 

This plan has been met with some resistance from Hassan and the state, but UNH has a "substantial level of autonomy over its budget and finances," according to an article published in the Union Leader on Tuesday. 

The second priority Huddleston mentioned was branding and marketing. Huddleston said the university is launching "aggressive new advertising campaigns, in both traditional and new digital media."

As he pointed out, "Quality is not enough if no one knows about it."

Intensifying STEM education and doubling STEM graduates by 2025 is another goal that UNH is working towards, along with its related organizations through the University and Community College systems. 

The university president stated that New Hampshire, as well as the rest of the United States, has a shortage of STEM-educated students.

"We simply do not have the highly-trained workforce that we need to drive innovation, productivity and economic growth in a highly-globalized, knowledge- driven, 21st century economy," Huddleston said.

Continuing research as well as philanthropy efforts made up the fourth and fifth priorities set by Huddleston. 

Huddleston pointed out several significant accomplishments of the university in 2013, including the openings at the UNH Law School in Concord and the STEM Discovery Lab in Manchester. He also cited UNH mathematics lecturer Yitang Zhang, who solved a significant numbers theory problem that brought him universal praise.


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