By DAN SEUFERT
Union Leader Correspondent
PLYMOUTH — Saying “the challenges in higher education are significant,” Plymouth State University President Sara Jayne Steen credited state lawmakers with restoring funds for the university system in her State of the University address Wednesday.
“Governmental decisions affect higher education. Federal financial aid guidelines impact institutions and families struggling to meet the costs of attendance,” she said. Approximately 90 percent of PSU students receive some level of scholarships or loans, and 40 percent are the first in their families to attend college, Steen said.
“State support for University System operations and buildings is important. I want to thank the governor and Legislature for restoring funds that helped us to freeze tuition for New Hampshire students.”
PSU, she said, is rising to meet the projected decline in high school graduates in New England over the coming years, and is “intensifying competition and increasing the importance of communication and of providing education to students from areas of the nation and world with different, even reverse demographics.”
To increase access and affordability, PSU last year offered 17,000 credit hours through online and hybrid courses, “which blend online and face-to-face learning,” she said.
“We are, however, not becoming an online university, and residential campuses are not going away. As online learning becomes better, and it is, the residential experience can be even more exciting, with added value.”
Last year, more than 800 PSU students participated in a capstone or internship experience that helped them move from the undergraduate to the professional world, and the National Study of Student Engagement reports that PSU students have professional experiences at a higher rate than their peers (94 percent to 86 percent): these are pathways of career development, she said.
PSU has joined with the Mount Washington Observatory in hiring professor Eric Kelsey, a professor of atmospheric science and chemistry. Among numerous other achievements in the past year was the establishment of the Museum of the White Mountains “allowing PSU to protect a heritage that easily could slip away.”
She also cited the Enterprise Center at Plymouth, a business incubator and accelerator developed in partnership with the Grafton County Economic Development Council, which had its grand opening in October. The project was funded by federal, regional, state and private dollars and the building is owned by the council, with programming provided by PSU.
Looking ahead, there are numerous new educational opportunities at PSU, she said. This spring, construction is beginning on Active Living, Learning and Wellness North, “a significant multi-use facility that will provide much-needed large spaces for classes and research in, for example, rehabilitation and exercise fitness, as well as for athletics and recreation.”Soon, she said, the university’s Planning and Budgeting Leadership Group will be bringing the draft university strategic plan to constituencies for discussion and asking for responses and ideas.
“These discussions matter because no one can work on a plan without understanding and owning it, and we want everyone at PSU to see his and her role in making the strategic plan a good one and in making it a reality,” she said.