Dr. Susan Huard has been chosen to receive NH Business & Industry Association's Lifetime Achievement Award.
Huard retired as Manchester Community College's president in December 2019 after nearly a decade of distinguished tenure. She then served as the Community College System of New Hampshire's interim chancellor through August 2021.
While retired, she still speaks in present tense about her passion for the state's community colleges.
"One of best ways to think of community colleges is as a bridge, whether moving from high school to four-year colleges, or students starting in a technical trade and coming to us," she said. She adds with a laugh: "Community colleges are about 120 years old and we're still being discovered."
Huard will receive the award at BIA's 109th Annual Dinner and Awards Celebration on Oct. 26 at the DoubleTree by Hilton in Manchester. Television journalist and businessman Fred Kocher and attorney Dick Samuels of McLane Middleton will also receive Lifetime Achievement Awards. Waypoint will receive BIA's New Hampshire Advantage Award. The celebration starts with a networking reception from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., followed by the dinner and awards ceremony.
Huard's tenure as interim chancellor included the state's exploration of merging CCSNH with the university system. Now on the outside looking in, she acknowledged it's a difficult conversation, adding only, "The work we do is very different than the university system."
Differences include community colleges catering to a different type of student. CCSNH has more part-time than full-time students with many taking courses while working. CCSNH is nimble and closely connected to students, high schools, businesses and communities, while about a third of the graduates each year transfer to the university system or another four-year college.
"We need to continually be in touch with employers and the colleges students transfer to in order to continue to adapt," she said. "Support students first, and take advantage of the expertise of the faculty and administrators to translate what they're seeing and what they want."
Huard notes most CCSNH adjunct faculty are practicing professionals. "Teaching and instruction is a lot more than simply talking about something," she said. "It involves more coaching and sharing experiences. I see a lot more professionals teaching moving forward."
CCSNH is adept at adapting to what employers need from a workforce, something even more critical given the state's worker shortage. Huard cited many examples of programs resulting from employer partnerships.
CCSNH is helping meet the need for licensed practical nurses, relaunching an LPN program that will be a model moving forward. The program began at River Valley Community College in Claremont and then went to Lakes Region Community College. It will launch at White Mountains Community College in the fall and in southern New Hampshire in January.
"When creating a program to meet regional needs we look to make it broad enough that other community colleges can also offer the same or similar program," Huard said. "When we understand what businesses need, we can put our education expertise on top of that and create programs that lead to greater programs."
CCSNH's seven campuses maintain a distinct local feel. Great Bay Community College's proximity to the University of New Hampshire led to a focus on credit transfer agreements. GBCC's Rochester campus was created in partnership with Albany International, an advanced textiles and materials processing company, and Safran Aerospace Composites. Its curriculum is more specific to manufacturing.
"It makes sense to focus that type of training there and multiple high schools can partner there," said Huard, noting CCSNH's Running Start program enables high school students to take community college courses for dual high school and college credit.
Huard said community colleges work to break down the silos of skills training versus college courses.
"Many in the public still kind of have an either or instead of both mentality. Going into workforce or going to college," Huard said. "It can be both."
She cites Manchester Community College's HVAC program. Students can get a degree focused on that, begin working, and then add business courses or a business degree to help them become small business owners.
COVID-19 forced CCSNH to adopt remote and hybrid learning, now seen as a lasting positive.
"We have students taking classes in the classrooms, students at home or their workplace joining via Zoom, and a third group tuning into lectures at 2 o'clock in the morning when they get off their shift," Huard said. "It's really influenced our thinking about effective instruction."
Huard, who serves as a commissioner for the New England Commission on Higher Education, said college enrollment in general is down for the fall.
"People are wondering about the value of a college education and others are trying to get back on their feet and looking at working without seeing they can combine work with a community college education to really propel their advancement."
CCSNH offers an affordable education option. The university system's tuitions were cited during BIA's roundtable policy talks this summer as causing a growing number of in-state students to leave for less expensive options and many don't return. CCSNH states that 93% of its students are New Hampshire residents and the vast majority remain as part of the state's workforce.
CCSNH froze tuition for the 2022-23 year at $215 per credit, or $6,450 per year for a full-time course load -- the fourth consecutive year without an increase. Tuition has risen just $5 per credit since 2011. Huard nonetheless sees that $6,450 figure and worries.
"Much like our K to 12 systems we need financial support and support for the work that's done," she said. "I do worry. The state does not have unlimited resources."
But Huard said she's encouraged by the generosity of CCSNH's funders, which includes the state and private supporters like the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation and Foundation for New Hampshire Community Colleges.
Huard, who chairs the NH Higher Education Loan Corporation's board, also hopes the federal government simplifies its Free Application for Federal Student Aid process, which has been described as time-consuming and overly complex.
"We start from a place of people not even knowing to take advantage of aid available to them," she said.
But Huard said the biggest challenge remains continuing to promote community colleges and all they offer. "Community colleges are a critical piece in New Hampshire education."
For a list of past winners of BIA's Lifetime Achievement Award, visit https://bit.ly/BIAhonorees.
To purchase tickets for BIA's Annual Dinner, visit https://bit.ly/BIAAnnualDinner. For sponsorship opportunities, email Lora McMahon.
Rick Fabrizio is director of communications for the BIA, New Hampshire's statewide chamber of commerce and leading business advocate.