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UNH president says change or go under

By Holly Ramer
Associated Press Writer / February 2, 2010

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CONCORD, N.H.—The president of the University of New Hampshire outlined a 10-year strategic plan Tuesday he says is necessary to keep the state's flagship public university from eventually sinking.

If the current trend continues, the typical New Hampshire family will be paying 75 percent of its disposable income to send a child to UNH by 2020, compared to 40 percent in 1978 and 60 percent today, Mark Huddleston said in a speech in Durham. That's unsustainable, he said, and it's time to move beyond asking families to work more to pay tuition and asking faculty and staff to simply make do with less.

Public colleges and universities around the country have been cutting costs, laying off staff and passing on much of their state budget shortfalls to students through higher tuition. But the current paradigm of higher education isn't equipped to withstand the turbulence created by economic, political and demographic forces, Huddleston said.

"Either we change the paradigm or we go out of business," he said. "This is not simply another year-ahead worry about UNH's budget. It is about our ability to remain viable in the face of a gap between cost and ability to pay that grows into a true chasm when one looks ahead more than a year or two."

The University of New Hampshire has 12,200 undergraduate students and 2,200 graduate students. The strategic plan for the 144-year-old university was the product of more than a year's work by faculty, staff, students and local business and community leaders. It includes three main sections: requisites for change, program initiatives and capital improvements.

In the first, Huddleston called for a deep commitment to interdisciplinary collaboration among faculty and said everyone at UNH should embrace a spirit of enterprise. One member of the planning group said UNH should become known for its "nimbility," a made-up word that nonetheless captures the essence of the requisite, Huddleston said.

The academic calendar, he said, has become "an increasingly dysfunctional throwback to the agricultural needs and pedagogical styles of an earlier century." The university's faculty Senate already has authorized an experimental January term, and officials will review other ways in which time is allocated and credits are earned, Huddleston said.

The second part of the plan includes eight program initiatives, including rewarding innovative teaching and research projects with a New Ventures Fund and creating a "learning portal" -- a digital repository of lectures, assignments, data and other items that can be used by anyone on campus. Programs that bring New Hampshire to the world and vice versa -- such as study abroad -- should be expanded, and the university should be more inclusive.

While many of the initiatives focus on creating a "university without bounds," Huddleston said it is also important to improve the physical campus. The third part of the strategic plan includes capital improvements, such as a new business school to be built with a $25 million gift and match funds, a new arts center and the expansion of the Manchester campus.

Those projects will require an unprecedented fundraising campaign, he said. UNH must join the small circle of universities that can raise hundreds of millions of dollars over a decade, he said. Though the university has a modest fundraising record in the past, it has more than 123,000 alumni who have not been asked in a compelling way to help, he said.

He closed by quoting hockey great Wayne Gretzky.

Instead of making a dash for the puck, "we need now, and always, to 'skate to where the puck is going to be,'" he said.