PLYMOUTH — Noting this week that the "higher education landscape is shifting," Plymouth State University President Sara Jayne Steen asserted that the University is "nimble enough to make significant decisions" in order to deliver on the promise of its historic mission to New Hampshire. PSU has the talent and the resources to make innovative and enduring efforts in providing access to excellent educational opportunities, on campus and online, for a diverse population of students who seek to be successful in the global marketplace.
Steen's remarks came during her annual "State of the University" address on Wednesday afternoon.
"PSU offers outstanding undergraduate and graduate programs," she told an audience of faculty, staff, students and visitors. "That means hands-on learning with exciting research and creative opportunities that often involve service and engagement with our wider communities."
According to the National Study of Student Engagement (NSSE), a higher rate of PSU students have professional experiences as an element of their education compared with their peers (94 percent to 86 percent) as evidenced, Steen said, by the more than 800 PSU students who participated in internships or a program capstone experience last year with regional businesses and community agencies. She also noted that more than 560 course sections from across the University involve service learning. "The region should be better for PSU's presence."
Steen reminded the audience that PSU's regional impact is central to its mission, and that PSU has a direct impact on the economic health and cultural opportunities in the White Mountains and Lakes Region and throughout rural New Hampshire. She noted several strategic partnerships that leverage university resources to promote community growth and investment while at the same time providing increased engagement for students. These include joining with the Mount Washington Observatory to sponsor a professor who will lead Meteorology students in research projects using observatory data. Students in the Department of Language and Linguistics assisted local agencies in creating a Tourism Development toolkit to make them more welcoming and to entice Québécois visitors to stay longer in northern New Hampshire. The Enterprise Center at Plymouth is now open, with the College of Business Administration (COBA) students and the Grafton County Economic Development Council assisting 18 firms in the building and others through online programming. And the Museum of the White Mountains continues to attract visitors as its board and staff work with researchers and residents alike to preserve and promote the history, culture and legacy of the region.
New academic programs also reflect the region's priorities. A nursing program was added two years ago in response to a pressing need for health care professionals. The first Doctor of Education graduates from 2012 are now having an impact as leaders in local schools. And construction begins this spring on ALLWell-North, a multi-use health science facility that will provide much needed space for recreation and athletics as well as additional classroom and research space for several health and wellness disciplines.
"These initiatives sound diverse, but they are focused in mission," Steen said. "They reflect both short-term and long-term strategic thinking." Each contributes substantively to the future success and growth of the University. The future, however, is not without its challenges. Some of the shifts in the higher education landscape include increased financial pressures on students in a difficult economy, potential shifts in federal funding guidelines and a projected long-term demographic decline of high school graduates throughout New England, unlike other areas of the country and globe.
"Those institutions that will thrive by staying ahead of the confluence of these current challenges in higher education are thinking in focused, strategic ways with data-driven goals. Our PSU colleagues have been and are moving forward in an integrated manner to meet those challenges."