New Hampshire policy makers have announced a goal to increase the number of residents with post-secondary education to 65% by 2025 to address anticipated economic problems with the state’s trained workforce. By 2020, according to projections, 68% of jobs in New Hampshire will require post-secondary education.
As of 2012, 46.7% of New Hampshire adults have earned a two- or four-year college degree; this number is higher than the national average of 39.4%(Gittell “65 by 25”). While the state is scoring well nationwide in income and quality of life, growth in its trained workforce is torpid. According to Mark Connelly, New Hampshire’s work force growth is the lowest in the nation. In recent years, the state’s rate of improved educational obtainment has fallen behind its international high-tech competitors as well as other states.
Ross Gittell, Chancellor of the Cmmunity College System of New Hampshire, attributes the gap to a decline in educated new residents moving to the state and the tendency of 43% New Hampshire high school students to pursue post-secondary education outside of the state. The number of students graduating from New Hampshire high schools is predicted to decline by 20% over the next two decades(“65 by 25”). The educated workforce is also aging and leaving upon retirement. According to Gittell: “If present trends continue and no action is taken, it will take NH 80 years—or until 2095—to achieve 65 percent of adults with a higher education degree or a certificate of significant economic value.”
To reach “65 by 25,” policy makers seek improvement in math and science education in primary and secondary schools and a “pipeline” of students from New Hampshire high schools to New Hampshire colleges and universities. Policy makers are striving to increase the number of New Hampshire college graduates in STEM-related fields.
The state’s community colleges are seen as central to this initiative because they provide training in “middle skills” STEM-related jobs “such as front-line healthcare workers, automotive technicians and customer service representatives” (Gittell). Reduction of tuition costs for community college students and increased partnership with New Hampshire business are also seen as ways to achieve “65 by 25.”
This policy is aligned with Governor Maggie Hassan’s “Innovate NH Jobs Plan” and President Obama’s push for STEM in both his 2012 State of the Union address and more recently, his announcement at the 2015 White House Science Fair of $240 million support for STEM education from the private sector (White House Press Office).
Critics say that the problems result from larger structural issues in the education system and that focusing on science and mathematics instruction in isolation will not address the situation. According to Marc Tucker, in “STEM: Why It Makes No Sense,” Countries recognized for successful high-tech industries have developed educational systems which expect more rigorous training from teachers and provide new teachers with compensation equivalent to that earned by beginning engineers. Support for literacy should run in tandem with science and mathematics–evident a bit in the “A” (for “art”) in STEAM programs.