PSU Moving Forward

State of the University Address
President Sara Jayne Steen
Plymouth State University
26 March 2014

Welcome to the State of the University Address. Thank you for being here. Joining our faculty and staff today are a representative of Senator Shaheen, the District 1 member of the New Hampshire Executive Council, members of the Grafton County Commission, members of the Plymouth Select Board and the town administrator, the executive directors of the Plymouth Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Grafton County Economic Development Council, members of the Student Senate Executive Board, our undergraduate and graduate student representatives to the University System Student Board, current and former trustees of the University System of New Hampshire, and members of the PSU President’s Council. Others will be joining us electronically.

Those of you who attended this address two years ago may remember my remarking on the unseasonably warm, sunny weather and the students playing guitar and studying on the alumni green. As I was writing today’s address, the snow was blowing horizontally—again. I asked a friend who is a winter hiker why so many of us live in and love central New Hampshire, expecting her to say “For awesome winters like this.” Instead, she said wryly, “Because there is not enough room for us in warmer climates.” Winter weariness aside, our continued affection might be attributed to a vibrant intellectual community, wonderful host towns, and the visual beauty and four-season opportunities of the extraordinary Lakes Region and White Mountains.

Today’s higher education landscape is shifting, and the changes are coming from multiple directions—not a perfect storm, but a confluence of challenges and opportunities for institutions like PSU that are nimble enough to make significant decisions focused in mission and the ability to innovate.

What is that mission?  PSU is a respected public regional comprehensive university, providing accessible and affordable academic excellence and regional impact. PSU faculty members are committed to the strong teaching and mentoring for which Plymouth State is known; it’s what students deserve, and it’s why faculty and staff choose to be here. PSU offers outstanding undergraduate and graduate programs in selected fields, not being all things to all people but doing what we do very well. That means hands-on learning with exciting research and creative opportunities that often involve service and engagement with our wider communities, offering students experiences that set them apart and advance the quality of life within the region. The region should be better for PSU’s presence.

The challenges in higher education are significant. The projected decline in high school graduates in New England over the coming years 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. Internationalization and diversity also enhance educational quality and help PSU better prepare all students for the global marketplace.

Some people speak of the “unbundling” of traditional higher education, referring to the available alternatives by which people can acquire knowledge and skills. They discuss stacked badges or certificates rather than degrees, and cost-free MOOCs (or massive open online courses) and other online resources for which registration is not required. Competency-based education. Specialized corporate training.

Some of these alternatives, and others, are exciting; they offer educational opportunity to people who might not otherwise have had it and lifelong learning. If the world’s problems are to be solved, it will be through the collaboration of informed people. Technology is creating a transformation in knowledge not seen since the invention of the printing press. Let me check my phone: “Siri, search the Web for Gutenberg’s printing press.”  Instant facts.

But education is not just facts, and not all educational alternatives are the same. When I read a magazine in which a university advertises bachelor’s degrees in six months for just $2,500, I pause. Can that experience be meaningful?  Yes. Is it the same experience a student would have from PSU, in either online or residential courses?   No, it isn’t. And the differences in access and experience among the increasingly varied educational options have more far-reaching implications for the future than we can discuss here today.

Governmental decisions affect higher education. Federal financial aid guidelines impact institutions and families struggling to meet the costs of attendance. Approximately 90 percent of PSU undergraduates receive some level of scholarships or loans; 40 percent are the first in their families to attend college.

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.

Those institutions of higher education that will thrive and stay ahead of this confluence of challenges (and we have through this difficult economic time) are thinking in focused, strategic ways, with data-driven goals. Our PSU colleagues have been and are moving forward in an integrated manner now on a confluence of opportunities.

Thinking of recruitment, PSU this year has implemented a client relationship management system (CRM) for enhanced communication with students anywhere in the world, from initial inquiry through their alumni status; updated our Web and video presence to allow for faculty and student voices; and enhanced transferability in general and with New Hampshire community colleges. PSU students come from 48 states and 27 countries. There are 140 international graduate students, many in programs at least partially online, and nearly 80 international undergraduate and graduate students in Plymouth. The number is increasing. The Center for Global Engagement provides a campus home for those physically here, and newly proposed English-language courses will further equip international students for success.

To increase access and affordability, PSU last year offered 17,000 credit hours through online and hybrid courses, the latter of which blend online and face-to-face learning. Using interactive methods, faculty members observe how students learn, and they create online communities. Graduate programs in education and business and four undergraduate programs are fully online, and PSU online students study with the same dedicated faculty as if students were physically here. Online courses allow PSU to reach out to non-traditional students of all ages, for lifelong learning. For residential students, the ability to take courses online also means getting ahead, being able to work a job without falling behind, and improving their time to earn their degree.

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. Faculty members employ new technologies effectively and then make even more creative use of time together. Students are doing innovative hands-on projects bringing together theory and practice, giving students real-world experience and creating resumés that enhance employability. Students learn how to innovate, collaborate, and serve. The Student Showcase of Excellence featuring original student research will be held next month. I hope that many of you will attend.

Last year, over 800 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. This year PSU, in partnership with Granite United Way, hired an academic service learning coordinator; currently, over 560 course sections involve service learning. The Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning provides resources and strategies that help faculty promote student success. A year and a half ago, the Chronicle of Higher Education named PSU one of the best places in the country to teach, based on educational innovation and that commitment to student success; and current task forces are examining both student success and the first-year experience. Career Services is developing peer advisors and alumni mentoring networks.

As students enter PSU, they increasingly bring transfer credits, certificates, and online or competency-based credits from varied sources. This year PSU added Degree Works, a powerful advising tool sophisticated enough to answer the “what if” questions about academic choices, freeing faculty and staff to focus more on students’ individual situations and career development. And the CARE early alert system allows staff and student colleagues to let the appropriate people know that someone in the PSU community may need support.

At the same time, PSU is enhancing its niche, because distinctiveness matters. We have welcoming host towns, a beautiful campus, high-quality teaching and learning, and a strong sense of community and engagement. To that, however, we add selected, high-quality liberal arts and professional programs that we can celebrate, as we celebrate our incredible location in the Lakes Region and White Mountains—a natural lab for living and learning.

Regional impact is part of PSU’s mission and how well we achieve it is part of our distinctiveness. As Executive Director of University Relations Steve Barba often says, PSU is higher education with its feet on the ground. There are many comprehensive universities, even in New England, and those that best succeed will be those valued by their region and working in partnership with it. Over half of our undergraduates (57 percent) are from New Hampshire. We want New Hampshire families, businesses, and state government to be proud of what PSU brings. Thanks to our students, faculty, and staff, they have been reaching out.

National data confirm that higher education contributes to economic health, and a recent report by professor Dan Lee (College of Business Administration and Center for Rural Partnerships) on economic trends suggests it locally as well. Higher education attracts educated employees and students, offers arts and cultural outreach, and creates opportunities. MOOCs don’t play this role. And we at PSU are fortunate in our partners.

For example, PSU has joined with the Mount Washington Observatory in hiring professor Eric Kelsey (Atmospheric Science and Chemistry), who now is leading students in research using Observatory data. The Center for the Environment last week hosted the New Hampshire Water and Watershed Conference with many partners, to do together for New Hampshire what none of us can do alone. On the initiative of professor Katharine Harrington (Languages and Linguistics), the Center for Rural Partnerships, the New Hampshire Department of Resources and Economic Development, and PSU students studying French created a Tourism Development toolkit, making northern New Hampshire friendlier to Québécois visitors and giving students real experience. The Friends of the Pemi brings various branches of local and state government and the Plymouth Rotary and Regional Chamber of Commerce together with PSU students who are employing their research to enhance Livermore Falls as a new state park.

It’s easy to see where the Museum of the White Mountains fits into this aspect of PSU’s mission. The museum, opened just over a year ago, preserves and promotes the history, culture, and environmental legacy of this region, allowing PSU to protect a heritage that easily could slip away. The museum draws new audiences to PSU and the region, reflecting international interest in the Whites, has attracted private funding, and increasingly will provide opportunities for students and faculty in research and teaching. Students are learning museum and collections skills, and currently there are nine faculty affiliates. Last spring a Museum of the White Mountains program at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston drew a paying audience of 600 patrons. A new exhibit, Beyond Granite:  the Geology of Adventure, opened yesterday; its initial video had over 10,000 advance viewings.

The Enterprise Center at Plymouth, a business incubator and accelerator developed in partnership with the Grafton County Economic Development Council, 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. Companies in the incubator are growing and have created seven new jobs. The anchor tenant, Narrative 1, was founded by a PSU alum. Eighteen students have had internships, assisting companies with graphic design, marketing, computer engineering, social media, and more. One workshop alone attracted 230 people from 35 area companies.

In academic programs as well, Plymouth State does market research with consideration of state and regional needs, and Provost Julie Bernier develops implementation plans. The Doctor of Education degree, for example, graduated its first class in 2012 and is allowing cohorts of educators to study and, through their research, positively impact schools across the region. Currently approximately 70 educators are in the doctoral program. Responding to New Hampshire’s need for health care professionals, PSU has added a strong nursing program, and will be improving key facilities for health and human performance, PSU’s third largest academic department.

This spring, construction is beginning on ALLWell North (for Active Living, Learning and Wellness), 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. This facility will provide wonderful opportunities for students and enhance PSU’s preparation of health and wellness professionals, an important STEM and allied health contribution to New Hampshire’s workforce and economy.

These initiatives sound diverse, but they are focused and based in mission. They reflect both short-term and long-term strategic thinking. When Steve Barba speaks to you about university relations or about advocacy with the state legislature, and he will, he is asking you to join in communicating the PSU mission and story. That story includes recent examples of the University’s excellence.

  • PSU has been named to the Federal Learn and Serve Honor Roll for the seventh consecutive year; and recognized by the Princeton Review as one of the most sustainable campuses in North America.
  • The student chapter of the education honor society Kappa Delta Pi was presented with a Presidential Volunteer Award from the White House for students’ commitment to literacy initiatives in the greater Plymouth area and the North Country.
  • The Educational Theatre Collaborative’s production of the original musical Marking the Moment, written by Trish Lindberg (Elementary Education and Childhood Studies) and Manuel Marquez-Sterling (emeritus, Social Science) received the Moss Hart award for outstanding theatre in New England; the musical opened the Town of Plymouth’s 250th anniversary celebration this year. And TIGER Takes on Bullying, a television show co-produced by Trish in partnership with NHPTV and based on PSU’s well-known TIGER program integrating theatre and guidance for children in the schools, received a New England Emmy and a national Telly award.
  • Kevin Lupo (senior, Meteorology) has received an American Meteorological Society scholarship and a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Hollings Scholarship and held an internship at the National Weather Service in Juneau, Alaska.
  • Lourdes Avilés (Meteorology) received the Atmospheric Science Librarians International award for her book Taken by Storm 1938: A Social and Meteorological History of the Great New England Hurricane, as the best book of 2013 relating to historical meteorology/ climatology/ or atmospheric sciences.
  • Annette Holba (Communications and Media Studies) received the Everett Lee Hunt Book Award from the Eastern Communication Association for her co-authored book An Overture to Philosophy of Communication: The Carrier of Meaning.
  • Jonathan Santore (Music, Theatre and Dance) received the American Prize in Composition for choral music. Much of his submitted work for this national award was performed by the New Hampshire Master Chorale, for which he serves as composer in residence.
  • Dan Perkins (Music, Theatre, and Dance) was invited to conduct the PSU Choirs and others at New York’s Carnegie Hall this Easter Sunday.
  • In Athletics, women’s basketball coach Liz Stich was honored as a member of the New England Basketball Hall of Fame; the Eastern College Athletic Conference presented Ali Keith ’13 (Childhood Studies) with an Award of Valor as an inspiring student-athlete; Josh Morgan (Criminal Justice) won the Nason Award for Senior Achievement from the New England Football Writers Association, in his case for outstanding athletic performance while also battling cancer; and alpine skier Max Martin (sophomore, Management) became the first student-athlete in school history to compete at the NCAA Skiing Championships, racing against the nation’s top skiers, some with World Cup and Olympic experience.

These are only samples among many achievements. As the NEASC accreditation team who visited campus this fall said, PSU is moving forward with energy and has a wonderful story to tell.

There are specific areas on which we must focus in the upcoming year.

The first is enrollment. PSU has over 7,000 students now, approximately 4,500 undergraduates and 2,500 graduate students. PSU saw significant growth, especially in graduate students, early in the past decade and continued to have slow, solid growth, from approximately 5,500 students (3,800 undergraduates) to over 7,000 students, growth of over 30 percent. We welcomed those students and also substantially increased financial aid in a difficult economy to enable them to continue their education, as public institutions should.

When the state legislature in 2011 nearly cut in half the University System appropriation, PSU was forced to make difficult reductions of $6.5 million, limiting flexibility and implementation of strategic initiatives. Last year, like many schools, we saw a predicted decline of approximately 290 full-time equivalent students (which is the budgetary way of describing students) and a modest decline of 50 this year. That means that smaller classes are moving forward as larger classes are graduating. As Vice President for Finance and Administration Steve Taksar says, PSU manages conservatively, which is a strength that has served the University well. Initiatives undertaken over the past several years have every indication of success—this spring, for example, PSU saw increases in out-of-state undergraduate enrollment—but they need time. As a result, I am asking the campus to adjust expenses by under 2 percent, or $2 million on a $120 million operating budget, so that PSU can continue to meet its goals of careful financial management and also have a pool to invest for the longer term in people, facilities, and initiatives. Please understand:  PSU is solid and financially stable, and we are continuing PSU’s long-standing commitment to careful planning by engaging in reallocations that reflect what is important now for PSU’s future. Those of you on campus will have an opportunity to participate in discussions and bring your thinking and creativity to bear.

Enrollment, finally, belongs to us all, not just Admissions; excellence and student success and the ability to communicate those achievements are key.

Marketing and identity branding, then, are another focus for the year. Many of you have seen samples of this year’s advertising. Our alumni have responded with pleasure, and there is much to do under the leadership of Interim Director of Marketing Amy Barnes and Vice President of Enrollment Management and Student Affairs Jim Hundrieser, with strong support from Information Technology and the Office of Public Relations. Many of you will be providing information and responses, creating videos, and more. PSU’s reputation rightly has been growing in breadth and depth because of the high quality of the educational experience that PSU’s excellent staff and faculty provide. Plymouth State University is no longer a hidden gem.

We also want to enhance revenue through continued advocacy, partnerships, sponsored programs, and philanthropy, diversifying revenues so that fewer costs fall on students and their families. Earlier today I mentioned a few of the important regional partnerships supporting students, faculty, and staff, and that emphasis was deliberate, because partnerships are powerful opportunities. This year, the Office of Sponsored Programs managed over $11.1 million and is actively working to match external funding with PSU projects. And this year, I am happy to report, was a record year for University Advancement, which raised $5.2 million, an important milestone for PSU and meaningful support for specifically designated PSU scholarships, programs, and even a small amount to the general operating budget, to which the Annual Fund now contributes. As one alumnus wrote recently with pride, “I contribute yearly to the Annual Fund and am pleased to support such educational heights especially as it may help deserving students.” Congratulations to the Advancement team.

Finally, we will be looking to the next phase of PSU’s strategic planning. Soon the 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.

Together we will lean in on enrollment and communication and planning. I am confident in our mission, our impact, and the talent and energy of this PSU team—and many others on campus, in the community, and across the state are confident in PSU as well. Here is why. [Watch the video at the end of this text. It was created for a legislative presentation.]

That is what we do and whom we serve.

This year we lost alumnus, commissioner, and executive councilor Raymond S. Burton, a recipient of PSU’s Granite State Award and Blair Medal for Distinguished Public Service. Ray shaped a life around bettering a place he loved, and he asked that his memorial be held on campus, because PSU provided him the opportunity to live that life. That legacy continues. On a recent snow day (and we do owe the physical plant team thanks for their care across this long winter), I went to Biederman’s Deli between meetings. Three of our students took the opportunity to thank me, and through me to thank you: they are graduating this semester in four years and debt-free, and they wanted me to know that they have had a wonderful education. That was a perfect lunch.

A new book (available at the bookstore) provides a history of Plymouth State University written by Marcia Schmidt Blaine (History, Philosophy, and Social Science Education) and Louise Samaha McCormack (Health and Human Performance), with wonderful contemporary photos. It was produced by the Office of Public Relations, with special thanks to Lisa Prince and Barbra Alan.

The book is a beautiful study of PSU’s past and present. Its future we are building together. I am honored to be among you as we do.