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From my point of view

While merging New Hampshire’s Community College System and the University System may sound like a good idea, the details very quickly show how ill-fitting such a step would be. Forcing and rushing a merger between these institutions with very different missions, cost structures, cultures, business relationships and student bodies is a recipe for chaos at a time when higher education must be on its game.

COVID-19 has affected the demographics of these institutions in very different ways. Residential four-year colleges, with large auxiliary services like athletics and residence halls, experienced major disruptions and multi-million-dollar costs over the past year; community colleges had different impacts and required very different strategies.

Ninety three percent of community college students are New Hampshire residents, and three-quarters of its students are adults; a population that seeks education available in their communities, connections to local careers, the flexibility to attend part-time while working, education they can afford and strong academic support. The facts show that the Community College System of New Hampshire over the last several years has anticipated and planned for demographic shifts. It has moved in the directions needed by our communities and regional labor markets and has increased student success outcome to become nation-leading in many areas.

Both systems should continue to look within and make the kinds of adjustments that will position them for the greatest strength going forward. By each system focusing on what it does best, and being strong and collaborative partners, New Hampshire is best served. Blending the different missions into one organization does a service to neither, and most importantly not to the students, businesses and communities who feel the impact.

A legislative subcommittee that reviewed the merger proposal developed a list of more than thirty questions it felt were critical to the question of whether a merger would be in the best interests of higher education in New Hampshire. Questions included affordability, access, mission and vision, program array, finances, student needs, accreditation impacts, governance, union contracts, workforce development, trade programs, regional economic development, the loss of locations, differing business models, information technology, and many, many more.

Exploring these questions might lead to a better understanding of how, or if, a merger could responsibly be undertaken. Many states have waded into this territory too quickly only to experience a decade of disruption, reversal and other negative impacts for student and their states.

I support the governor and would encourage him to see the benefits of studying this issue and getting answers to questions it has raised before major changes are made. I think the way the Legislature is currently looking at slowing down this process and addressing questions is right path forward for New Hampshire. This is not a crisis nor the exhalations of a “dying system.” This approach still means sustainability and progress for higher education in New Hampshire.

Paul J. Holloway is a businessman and a resident of Rye. He has served on the boards of trustees of both the University System of NH and the Community College System of NH and is a philanthropist supporting education and community causes in New Hampshire.

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