2022 State of the University Address
President James W. Dean Jr.
Feb. 8, 2022
Good afternoon, everyone, here in the Granite State Room and online. A special welcome to the Granite State College community, who may be joining us for the first time as a result of the pending integration of Granite State and UNH. Also welcome to people joining us from our Concord and Manchester campuses.
I have the honor of speaking with you today about the state of our university: Where we have been in 2021 – indeed, what we have been through together – and what our community has accomplished.
I am extremely proud of our university and grateful to all of you. In fact, the theme of my talk is that while we are facing unprecedented challenges, the University of New Hampshire community is rising to meet them, and continuing not only to accomplish our mission every day, but to thrive as an institution.
I hope that you will leave here today inspired by our achievements, and excited about what’s ahead for us in 2022.
I would like to begin by acknowledging that this is an incredibly difficult time for higher education in America.
First, COVID has presented countless challenges to our country, with millions sick and hundreds of thousands dead. All of us in higher education have had to adapt to each new stage of the virus, and our sector has demonstrated ingenuity and flexibility that many doubted we possessed. Over 90% of students, faculty and staff at UNH are vaccinated. But…this has been a painful time for all of us: students forced to be at home or online, events cancelled or moved to Zoom, constant testing and masking, inability to interact in person with colleagues, friends and even families, and worries about children and aging parents. I don’t believe the comparison to a prolonged war is overdone. Even though our adversary is microscopic, it is lethal, elusive and persistent.
Second, the economic ground for American higher education is shifting under our feet, right now. Some of us remember when every year brought more students to American colleges and universities, who were able to pay ever-higher tuition prices. This combination of more students paying more tuition supported consistent, significant raises for faculty and staff.
None of this is any longer true:
- College enrollment in the US declined by 3.5% in spring 2021 alone, the greatest one-year enrollment drop in 10 years. But the decline in the Northeast was nearly twice as high, at 6.9%. And unfortunately, this is just the beginning: The college-going population will decrease by 15% between 2025 and 2029 and continue to decline thereafter. These changes are even more pronounced in the Northeast, and in New Hampshire. They represent an existential challenge to public universities like ours with limited state support, where tuition is our biggest source of revenue.
- Some of you will remember the phrase “double-digit percentage tuition increases.” This was indeed once true, but that time is long gone. Tuition increases are now in the one to two percent range at most, and these increases are offset by increases in financial aid, also known as the discount rate, which is now close to 50%. (Some of the downward pressure on tuition is based on the ever-increasing debt load experienced by college graduates across the country.)
- Not surprisingly, fewer students paying less tuition has also put an end to substantial pay raises at universities across the United States, and the growth of fulltime faculty has pretty much ground to a halt. The American Association of University Professors reports that US faculty salaries increased on average one percent last year. That is the smallest increase in 50 years.
Third, the political division in this country, and the widespread refusal to entertain different perspectives and points of view, threatens to undermine the work of universities like ours. Higher education institutions are at our best when we use facts and logic to arrive at conclusions, about which we are appropriately cautious, and help others to learn to do so as well. This is characteristic of the humanities, the sciences, and the professions.
But now we see a widespread tendency to work backward from conclusions based on political solidarity toward logic and even facts. Universities should be the place where people learn how to think independently and creatively, and as such should be a beacon for the rest of society. If we ever give this up, our raison d’être, our reason for being, will be in question.
These three challenges—to our health, to our financial viability, and to our core mission—represent an alarming context for our collective work at the University of New Hampshire. Under the circumstances, it would be tempting to throw up our hands in defeat. I believe, however, that we have shown ourselves, and continue to show ourselves, to be more than up to these challenges. Despair and surrender are simply not in our DNA.
As evidence for this claim, I will start with our faculty and staff.
You weathered a perfect storm of challenges in 2021, those I have mentioned as well as the retirement of nearly 300 colleagues amid significant changes to our business practices. It is not surprising that we have heard real concerns about morale. However, all of you have my deepest respect for how you carried on, day in and day out, and continued to bring your best to your students and colleagues even in these trying times.
This triumph of dedication and professionalism under genuinely tough circumstances is illustrated by this video message from our employees to their colleagues in our campus communities in Concord, Durham and Manchester. Their pride and gratefulness are truly something special. This is an extraordinary university because of the people who work here and the students who come here. This video, while longer than many of videos we create, is a chance to hear directly from faculty and staff across the university, as they express their gratitude to their colleagues. (Video plays.)
They say it far better than I ever could. Thank you, everyone, for bringing your very best to UNH. We have recently held recognition ceremonies for faculty, and we are planning similar events for staff in the near future.
In light our challenges, UNH’s accomplishments in 2021 are remarkable and even historic.
As you may remember, we launched a university-wide strategic plan in 2019. Our aspiration was—and is—for UNH to be among the nation’s top 25 public universities in the most important measures of academic performance.
- Your hard work drove UNH’s success in a key metric we use to chart our progress toward that goal. In the area of best value—a measure of the quality of the education an institution offers relative to its cost—UNH rose to 10th among public universities. And first among public universities in New England. I don’t have to tell you how important this is to prospective students and to their parents as they consider colleges and universities.
- We are doing well on other metrics too, as you can see on the screen. (Visual: metrics and ranking). We have made a couple of changes to the metrics. We have dropped the metric of how many incoming first year students were in the top 10% of their high school class, because fewer and fewer high schools are reporting this data. We have added a new metric, however – graduation rate performance, which you can read more about on the UNH website. We want everyone to see how well we’re doing. We also continue to do very well on student loan repayment, which indicates not only that our students are graduating but that they are getting good jobs.
- In 2021, UNH renewed its standing among the nation’s most sustainable universities with the renewal of our STARS Platinum rating. UNH earned the 5th highest score among more than 600 institutions rated for their sustainability performance.
- Our research productivity per faculty member puts us in the top 50 public universities and continues to get better.
- There has been great news in individual schools and colleges as well. For example, the UNH Franklin Pierce School of Law was ranked 4th among the nation’s best intellectual property programs, according to US News and World Report. And our master’s in education program was tied for the #1 ranking in New England.
Our progress is guided by four strategic priorities, which are the focus of our work across the university. They are:
- Build Financial Strength
- Expand Academic and Research Excellence
- Embrace New Hampshire
- Enhance Student Success and Well-Being
I’ll begin with Financial Strength. Some of the challenges I mentioned earlier reflect steps that we have undertaken to establish a strong, sustainable financial footing for UNH, despite the gale force winds buffeting US higher ed right now.
- UNH leadership has heard loud and clear the feedback about the inconvenience and frustration associated with some of the business process changes we have made. These include:
- FAR (Financial and Administrative Restructuring)
- CERP (COVID Enhanced Retirement Program), UShop (our new purchasing system)
- STAR (Support Team for the Administration of Research),
- and especially the move away from BSCs (Business Service Centers) as our primary way of accomplishing financial and employee transactions.
- To put these changes in context, if we exclude grants and gifts, our net revenue has dropped by $25 million since fiscal year 2019 – and it has continued to slip due almost entirely to ongoing demographic shifts in our state and region. At the same time, the cost of purchased goods and services has increased.
- The changes I mentioned above saved us $43 million in FY22 and put us in a far more sustainable financial situation. Had we not initiated these programs when we did, we would be in desperate straits, forced to cut academic programs and to make other very difficult decisions, which I would be announcing to you today. While the changes we made were indeed painful, I hope that you can understand that they were necessary, and much less painful than the alternative.
- Thankfully, because of generous donors, we were able to increase scholarships and other opportunities for students in 2021. In fact, for the fiscal year that began in July, we have already raised more than $50 million in private support, an all-time record for UNH. Thank you to our generous donors who recognize the importance of supporting our mission in these challenging times. Much of this support will add to our endowment and provide student support indefinitely, and some of it is in commitments for future gifts, including bequests. I would like to congratulate and thank our Advancement colleagues for their success this past year.
- There are two striking examples of how we are making UNH more affordable. First, we are doing our best to keep in-state tuition flat. Next year will be the fourth year in a row that in-state tuition has not increased. Second is the Granite Guarantee, which provides free in-state tuition to Pell-grant eligible students. Since the program’s inception in 2017, more than 2,000 New Hampshire students have attended UNH tuition-free through this program. I think everyone in New Hampshire should know about, and be immensely proud of, this accomplishment, which means that many more families will enjoy the benefits of college education.
While we are under tremendous pressure to keep our costs low, we absolutely must honor and uphold our commitment to:
- academic and research excellence,
- delivering vital outreach to support New Hampshire’s quality of life, and
- providing a supportive and healthy environment for our students, staff, and faculty.
I will now turn to our accomplishments in these areas.
ACADEMIC AND RESEARCH EXCELLENCE
Expanding Academic and Research Excellence is one of our most visible priorities, because our pursuit of research excellence earns us attention in regional, national and international media outlets.
- As you may know, UNH is classified as a Carnegie R1 (or research one) university, the highest designation for research universities in the country. R1 is an important qualification in recruiting high-quality faculty and graduate students, as well as in securing competitive research grants. Of some 2,800 institutions that award four-year degrees in the U.S., only 137 (less than 5%) qualify for R1 status. Other R1 institutions include Cornell, Princeton, Yale, and MIT, which is pretty good company.
- For the second year in a row, UNH broke its record for competitive research funding, closing fiscal year 2021 with more than $260 million in new grants and contracts – double its FY20 record. That is a great reflection of the talent and hard work of everyone at UNH, from our faculty researchers to our support staff who maintain our labs and keep track of our applications.
- One important meaning of expanding academic and research excellence is expanding it to an increasingly diverse set of people. Retaining our underrepresented faculty has proven to be a daunting challenge when virtually all universities are seeking to increase their own diversity. But we were able to significantly increase the diversity of our hiring last year, due to the extraordinary efforts of many deans, department heads and search committees across the university. We are also working hard to increase the diversity of our student body, and early indications show that we have a good chance of making progress with next year’s entering class. Initiatives around campus, including COLA’s Global Racial and Social Inequality Lab, show that we are making meaningful efforts to enhance equity and inclusion, as well as diversity.
EMBRACE NEW HAMPSHIRE
The Embrace New Hampshire priority is a natural for UNH, as supporting New Hampshire is the bedrock upon which UNH was founded. We were established to serve our state with education and to develop applied research that would improve the economy and the quality of people’s lives, and we have been doing so since 1866.
We can be especially proud of our record on this front in 2021.
- A wonderful example came with the opening of the Health Sciences Simulation Center in November. This was the result of our partnership with the state Legislature and the New Hampshire Department and Health and Human Services. Nurses and other healthcare professionals are desperately needed, and this advances our commitment to double the number of graduates in these fields. I was particularly proud of the eloquent speeches by our student leaders at this event.
I was pleased that Governor Sununu attended our grand opening along with other state leaders and officials. As I said then, I am grateful for the support of our state lawmakers, who increasingly view UNH as a solution to New Hampshire’s biggest challenges.
- With a new $3.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education, UNH Manchester researchers will develop a program to support New Hampshire middle and high school students, especially English learners, in STEM learning. (STEM means science, technology, engineering, and math.) We envision this program extending to schools across the state. And during the 2021 school year, the Manchester STEM Teaching Fellows developed outreach activities for second graders at Manchester’s Boys and Girls Club.
- I will mention a third, particularly crucial contribution that our community has made to New Hampshire. By the end of 2021, our state-of-the-art COVID testing lab had processed more than 1 million tests. Thanks to our testing and public health efforts, our COVID positivity rate has remained low throughout the pandemic. And today, we are conducting COVID tests for about 125 non-UNH entities, including schools, long-term care facilities and homeless shelters. There are literally people across New Hampshire—parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters—who are alive and well today, but may have died without the testing that UNH provided. I can think of no greater contribution to the state’s welfare than this.
STUDENT SUCCESS AND WELL-BEING
Finally, our most important strategic priority, Student Success and Well-Being.
- I am delighted to announce today an initiative that will help us to recruit even more of New Hampshire’s most competitive students. This past fall, the trustees approved our plan to renovate Huddleston Hall to house an honors college. Students in the college will experience broader and deeper in-class and extracurricular education in a dedicated learning community, and work with faculty mentors from all colleges, departments and majors. We plan to begin construction this May, with completion expected in November 2023.
- Our community has been working together to improve our policies and particularly our communication involving sexual harassment and violence. I urge everyone – including all students, faculty, and staff -- to review the 22 specific commitments that UNH has made to improve our work in prevention, reporting, education and safety. My sincere thanks to everyone who contributed to this effort. We are holding a Town Hall to discuss these initiatives on Wednesday, February 16th. Look for more information on this soon.
- Finally, quoting Mahatma Gandhi: “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.” Since 2019, the UNH Student Basic Needs Committee, with members from across the university, has been working to ensure that our students’ most basic needs are met. This group oversees the Swipe it Forward program, which provides donated meals in dining halls, the Inn Between program, which provides emergency housing assistance, and the Student Emergency Assistance Fund, which provides grants that in many cases can make the difference between a student staying in school vs. dropping out. Nearly 500 members of our community have contributed to this fund. Their latest project is a food pantry—Cat’s Cupboard—that will provide nourishment for those who have no other way to obtain food. We can all be proud of what our community has done, and especially grateful to the members of the Student Basic Needs Committee.
I began this talk with a summary of the very difficult conditions facing American higher education in general, and the University of New Hampshire in particular, for the foreseeable future. But I expressed my confidence that our university community would rise to surmount these challenges, and in the last few minutes I have provided many examples of how we are doing just that.
We are successfully battling COVID. We are generating increased financial support from both the federal research funding agencies and from our alumni and friends. We are serving our state with distinction in countless ways including the incredible work of UNH Extension from Rye to Berlin and everywhere in between. We continue to do important work in diversity, equity, and inclusion. We are taking care of our students in and well beyond the classroom.
Remember that fulfilling our original mission of making it possible for young people to get a college education is paying incredible dividends every day. People who earn bachelor’s degrees are significantly more financially secure than those who don’t. They are much more likely to be employed and much less likely to live in poverty. They live longer lives, need less government assistance, divorce less frequently, and are less prone to depression. They vote and volunteer more often. Over 133,000UNH alumni are enjoying these advantages because of the work of this institution, as well as their own hard work. Our alumni are teachers and professors, doctors and nurses, engineers and architects, lawyers and businesspeople, UNH employees, and even astronauts! While it is easy to lose sight of this big picture in the everyday scrum of university life, we have an awful lot to be proud of.
But our most powerful stories are those that show how one person or a few people, embodying all that is good about UNH, can make a difference. I won’t identify any of these people by name, but they are among many examples of why I am so optimistic about the future of our great institution. What is UNH?
- UNH is faculty doing everything possible to help students—even when they test positive—to master their course material, be it music, management or microbiology.
- UNH is people from all over campus volunteering for hours to assist with arrival testing for students, so that we can safely begin our spring semester.
- UNH is students devoting considerable time to learning how to facilitate difficult conversations, so that our tradition of respectful dialogue can continue to flourish.
- UNH is people going to great lengths to provide comfort and support to those left behind when we have lost one of our own.
- And UNH is staff members outside at 3 a.m. during a snowstorm, working to make our campuses safe for all of us.
These examples (and many others I could mention) are the hallmarks of a great institution, which will find a way through the difficulties of today and tomorrow, and continue to ensure a bright future for the University of, and the people of, New Hampshire. Thank you.
Before we go to the Q&A, I would like to close with a video that shares the story of a remarkable student, Abrita Kuthumi, Class of 2021.
Thank you, everyone. I will now field some questions, assisted by Gina Damiano, PAT Council Chair, and Kevin Healey.