Doing more with less through revolutionary ingenuity

The University of New Hampshire's key to success
By: | Issue: October, 2017
September 8, 2017

Who could conceive that the Granite State would adopt as its motto part of the historic volunteer toast offered by General John Stark in his response declining the invitation to head up the 32nd reunion of the Battle of Bennington – “Live free or die; death is not the worst of evils.” Now more than 200 years later, the venerable words, live free or die, adorn New Hampshire motor vehicles. With this in mind, despite inescapable state appropriation shortfalls, the University of New Hampshire (UNH) is pioneering new pathways to stimulate New Hampshire’s economy and populate its pool of smart collar workers.

This revolutionary ingenuity does not suggest UNH is without substantial resources and valuable intellectual assets. Indeed, UNH has earned through prudent fiscal stewardship and smart growth planning abundant assets to position the University for global competition and national prominence. Over the past decade, UNH has significantly increased its campus infrastructure and amenities, and importantly, its endowment, gifts, grants, and research contracts. In this way, UNH has become more nimble and in control of its own destiny and long-term sustainability.

Since chartered in 1866 as a land-grant university, UNH has stimulated the State’s economy and promoted the betterment of the New Hampshire business environment. This means a $1.65 billion economic impact in New Hampshire as one of the State’s top ten employers. UNH is also among the top 25 public colleges where students graduate the fastest as ranked by Money Magazine. Importantly, 66,000 UNH alumni still reside in New Hampshire. Further, each year, more than half of UNH graduates go into STEM related career fields.

For entrepreneurial public research universities, the quality of academic product and student success outcomes should drive their rankings. Unfortunately, that is not the case for most traditional rankings. That is one of the reasons the University is developing the UNH Ingenuity Index. As currently conceived, this internal benchmarking measure will monetize both “product quality” and “ingenuity” by independently verifiable outcomes based, student success, and transformative institutional advancement data.

UNH represents a best-of-breed public research intensive university that has thrived in the face of craven competition. Like Sniff and Scurry in Spencer Johnson’s Who Moved My Cheese, UNH intuited the fast changing higher education marketplace and anticipated shifting sands of taxpayer support and public subsidization. With this perspective in mind, UNH has found new ways to fuel innovation in devising high demand academic programs; impactful faculty research; and resourceful community service.  

By way of illustrative example, the University has created seamless pathways among the various institutions of higher learning within the public system. The pathways of transfer articulation, dual enrollment, and concurrent enrollment ensure important credit recognition for students and curriculum alignment for employers. In so doing, UNH has engaged partners and built new expressways for aspiring students to move up to the flagship research campus.  

Beyond facilitating transfer within the public higher education system, UNH has developed mission complementary partnerships with public high schools for purposes of creating Early College learning experiences — providing students with an opportunity to learn and earn up to a year of college. This is an important dynamic when one considers that Early College increases conversion yield and accelerates graduation completion rates.  

Perhaps most importantly, New Hampshire business and civic leaders tell us that the UNH faculty connect well to the workforce and that the UNH students are reliable, hard workers, and practical problem solvers who are not afraid to get their hands dirty, feet wet, and hit the ground running.  

At the undergraduate level, UNH has created a network of undergraduate research, conferencing, and team-based game like simulations. These simulations are guided by Alumni mentors for freshmen to promote the development of best study habits and winning career success strategies.  

While the preponderance of institutions struggle to reduce their carbon footprint, and coal and petroleum dependence, UNH has established a 100% methane energy network without creating the intrusiveness of windmills and solar farms.  

For their part, UNH faculty swing above their weight when it comes to research volume with over $100 million annually. That is partly because of UNH’s unique status as a Land, Sea and Space institution of higher learning. For example, UNH ranks consistently in the top ranking tier in the fields of environmental science, marine sciences, and ecology impact. UNH is one of only a handful of universities with certified NASA lab-based instrumentation for space missions – with UNH faculty and students participating on site at the NASA launch facility. To achieve these results, UNH has transcended multidisciplinary and inter-professional faculty disciplines – by connecting the dots of business, economics, public policy, and environmental sustainability.

From the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, the theme of New Hampshire’s ingenuity and enterprise is put nicely this way:

An important part of the New Hampshire character emerged during Colonial times when people struggled with the terrain and long winters to establish settlements.  Surviving and prospering helped to develop skills and outlooks on life that have become part of the New Hampshire identity.  Taking pride in being able to figure things out and make them work – that’s Yankee ingenuity.  Hard work and preserving – that’s enterprise.

This theme from the Smithsonian Folklife Festival offers all of us in higher learning new hope and inspiration to do more with less – and to imagine a world where UNH can do much more with future investments that will strengthen and diversify New Hampshire’s 21st Century economy.  

—James Martin and James E. Samels are authors of Consolidating Colleges and Merging Universities (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2017). Martin is a professor of English at Mount Ida College (Mass.) and Samels is president and CEO of The Education Alliance.