Friday October 12, 2012

CONCORD, N.H. -- Forget the presidential race and the rest of the upcoming elections, the president of the University of New Hampshire is focused on multiple campaigns of a different sort.

In his state of the university speech Thursday, Mark Huddleston described what he called four high-stakes campaigns: the university’s long-range strategic plan, a comprehensive fundraising campaign, an effort called UNH Works for New Hampshire, and a campaign to give UNH more autonomy within the state university system.

Huddleston says since being launched three years ago, the long-range strategic plan has inspired more than 140 initiatives aimed at making UNH more affordable, accessible and innovative.

Huddleston said that UNH now offers more than 130 courses during the summer and January term, and offers more than 100 courses on line, to help students graduate sooner and reduce college debt.

"In a state with the highest per-student loan debt in the nation, that matters," Huddleston said.

He also noted the increase in students and faculty from other countries -- part of the goal of increasing UNH’s global reach.

UNH Works involves trying to persuade the Legislature to restore the nearly $50 million in funding that was cut from the university system budget in 2011.

Huddleston said UNH now receives six percent of its budget from the state, calling that the lowest level of support per capita for higher education in the country.

"This campaign is about showing our state’s elected leaders that keeping UNH affordable and accessible is critically important, not only to thousands of students and their families, but to all of New Hampshire," he said.

Huddleston said that if lawmakers restore the base funding level of $100 million to the university system, he pledges to freeze in-state tuition for the next two years and increase scholarships and grants.

Huddleston also cited the goal -- in collaboration with the Community College System of New Hampshire -- of doubling by the year 2025 the number of graduates in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math -- known as the "STEM" disciplines. He acknowledged the task would be a challenge.

"We area already 1,000 software engineers short of the needs of New Hampshire businesses," Huddleston said. "Daunting as it may be, however, this is a challenge we must meet to keep New Hampshire’s economy competitive."

Huddleston said the fundraising campaign this past year saw gifts and pledges grow by 77 percent from the previous fiscal year -- bringing in $22.5 million. He said the campaign would continue vigorously, and emphasized that it’s being waged on a number of social media platforms, as well as by more traditional means. He noted that his own Twitter account had recently been hacked and quipped, "If you got a direct message seeming to come from me offering to sell you an iPad cheap -- it wasn’t me and I hope you didn’t do it."

The final campaign, Huddleston said, is one to create greater autonomy for UNH within the framework of the university system. He said more autonomy would allow the university to make critical financial decisions and devise new programs.