Testimony by Sara Jayne Steen before the Governor’s FY2014-15 Operating Budget Hearing

November 27th, 2012 by Tim

Governor’s FY2014-15 Operating Budget Hearing

26 November 2012

Testimony by Sara Jayne Steen

President of Plymouth State University


Thank you for the opportunity to speak about the University System’s pledge and our commitment to New Hampshire, its economy, and its families.

Plymouth State University is a comprehensive university, focused on first-rate education informed by vibrant research and creativity and characterized by engagement with the people, schools, and businesses of New Hampshire.  Recently PSU has earned state and national recognition for academic innovation, environmental sustainability, international opportunities, community engagement, and economic partnership.  PSU serves over 7300 students, and thousands of others in New Hampshire attend campus workshops and arts and cultural events or are impacted by programs such as TIGER, which partners with schools on issues such as how to combat bullying and has been viewed by 300,000 schoolchildren.  Last year, PSU awarded 1400 degrees through the doctorate, and half of our alumni, now in the tens of thousands, stay in New Hampshire and contribute to the state’s vitality.

Like our sister institutions, PSU is cost-effective, operating approximately 15% more efficiently than our peers and delivering academic excellence.  PSU is committed to students; even as we coped with the difficult reduction in appropriation, we increased financial aid and employees enhanced their scholarship giving.  PSU collaborates to increase access for citizens, with 80 transfer agreements with the community colleges and a North Country Teacher Certification Program offered jointly with White Mountains Community College whereby students can complete a 4-year degree on the Berlin campus with the first two years delivered by WMCC and the last two by PSU.

PSU also enhances access through online learning.  This year, in addition to the high-quality graduate degrees offered online, four undergraduate programs are available: business administration, communications and media studies, criminal justice, and nursing (a degree completion for associate degree registered nurses).  And PSU is expanding programs in critical fields for the state, such as Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (or STEM) fields; has added a strong nursing degree; and is increasing investments in projects such as the Center for Active Living, Learning and Wellness, which will expand the workforce in wellness and allied health sciences.

To drive economic development, PSU is launching with the Grafton County Economic Development Council a business incubator and accelerator, the Enterprise Center at Plymouth.  It will draw on faculty and students from PSU’s nationally recognized College of Business Administration and offer physical and virtual services so that new and existing New Hampshire businesses thrive.  Students provide hundreds of thousands of hours each year on environmental research or arts projects or consulting with businesses and non-profits, serving New Hampshire as students engage in hands-on learning and prepare for successful careers. Although those contributions are not part of the University System’s economic impact report, they are meaningful.  The list goes on.

President Huddleston and I speak briefly today for us all:  President Kahn of Keene State College and President Leach of Granite State College have similar stories of transforming students’ lives, of Keene State’s partnerships for advanced manufacturing or Granite State’s new co-location with Nashua Community College.

For those of us in the University System, student successes have faces and names: Alexandra, Matthew, Samantha, or Connor.  Education is personal, one student at a time, and we know the many hours that New Hampshire students work beyond their classes, the debt they assume, and the support and sacrifices of their families.  Some students may not continue in school.  Some will leave the state to study, and they may not return.  New Hampshire wants to attract and create businesses, and a healthy economy requires excellent, affordable education.  We ask that you help us to help students.

The University System brings much more to New Hampshire’s economy than it did a decade ago and serves many more students.  Education is the backbone of the economy, and STEM and health programs are more expensive than ever. Our proposal that our appropriation be restored in exchange for freezing tuition has achieved broad popular support.  According to a recent Granite State poll, 71% of New Hampshire adults support restoring the appropriation along the lines we have described.  In addition, we have received specific endorsements from business leaders around the state who believe that an investment in public higher education is essential to the future of the New Hampshire economy and its workforce.  Some of them have spoken up; others will be doing so. More than 1,400 of our New Hampshire alumni, parents, friends, and students have told us they will be active in their own communities in support of this initiative. That number is growing.

We hope that you will support us in this initiative. We look forward to reaffirming our historic partnership with the State of New Hampshire in service to the well being of its citizens.

Testimony before the House Education Committee Regarding HB 1692

February 7th, 2012 by Jennifer Philion

House Education Committee HB 1692
25 January 2012
Legislative Office Building, Room 207

Testimony by Sara Jayne Steen
President of Plymouth State University

Chairman Balboni and members of the Education Committee, thank you for the opportunity to address you today. I am Sara Jayne Steen, President of Plymouth State University.

Plymouth State University is a regional comprehensive university of approximately 7,500 students. We provide well-educated graduates for New Hampshire’s workforce, ongoing opportunities for graduate education and professional development, research and creativity that directly benefit the state, and partnerships for cultural enrichment and economic development. Extraordinary programs attract students from New Hampshire and around the world and are crucial to New Hampshire’s ongoing competitiveness and future quality of life. Like you, we believe in partnerships and academic excellence, and we are committed to making New Hampshire a better place to live, to learn, and to earn.

Like my colleagues here today, I oppose HB 1692 to restructure the state’s public higher education system.

The university system and its campuses are achieving excellence and doing so cost-effectively. When I came to New Hampshire almost six years ago, I knew that the level of state support was the lowest in the nation, but I also could see what Plymouth State and other USNH campuses had been accomplishing by working together and in partnership with the state through, for example, the Knowledge Economy Education Plan (KEEP), a system-wide initiative led by the Chancellor and supported by the General Court. Repeatedly our campuses and system have received recognition for excellence and demonstrated an ability to be innovative on behalf of the state in developing programs and partnerships, and repeatedly our campuses and system have been shown to be operating below the costs of our comparators. The Board of Trustees exercises its fiduciary responsiblity carefully. We agree with your concern for increased institutional autonomy and have been collaborating on a plan to that end, again being mindful of cost-effectiveness.

The bill’s sponsors assume financial savings for the campuses, but there also are costs. Plymouth State University benefits from shared services at the system level, and there are economies of scale in, for example, treasury and investment among other functions. Should the system office be reduced as proposed in this bill, Plymouth State and the other campuses will have to replicate system support and maintain the high level of quality and accountability. For PSU, that will entail costs and additional employees at a time when our appropriation has been reduced by 48%. In some cases the shift is likely to introduce additional costs. The move toward increased institutional autonomy on which the Board is moving will allow USNH campuses to be even more nimble, but such a transition must be done carefully. Looking to economy of scale and appropriate system services is prudent management.

Part of the genius of the General Court’s creation of the University System was in providing the Board with the authority to respond to changing circumstances, as the members of the Board of Trustees are doing now, working with the Chancellor and the campus leadership teams. I urge you to allow the Board of Trustees to do what it has done for approximately 50 years: respond reasonably and responsibly to changing circumstances and direct a system of public higher education of which New Hampshire can be proud.

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