Keene State College is saying farewell to its president of eight years. Helen Giles Gee is leaving the school at the end of the month to become president of the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia.
Giles Gee says she and her colleagues have moved Keene State forward over the last eight years – adding new programs of study, revising the general education curriculum, updating facilities and expanding partnerships with employers and the community, all in a time of significant change for the university system and for the economy.
Giles Gee sat down with All Things Considered host Brady Carlson to share her impressions about how New Hampshire’s public colleges, including Keene State, are likely to respond to these changes. And the first point she made was that each school will look to make their offerings more unique to New Hampshire college students.
“This state is very fortunate to have a system of institutions that are very unique," Giles Gee says. "As Keene State focuses on the undergraduate experience, then you have the University of New Hampshire, which has full doctoral programs and is a land grant institution. Then you have Plymouth State University, which is a comprehensive institution providing the applied doctorate with the Ed. D. degree and many masters programs. And then Granite State, that offers adult education and continuing education and online. What I think you’re seeing is a transformation of each of these institutions to become even more of what they are, including more technology, including different delivery mechanisms, but offering something that’s pretty singular.”
If each of these public institutions is trying to become more of what it is, each is also trying to do more with less. The legislature cut state aid to public colleges by about half. Helen Giles Gee says national research shows Keene State has held costs down while maintaining quality, but she also says colleges are probably going to be turning toward their communities and networks more directly, as they’ve done with alumni and businesses in the region.
“We put the case in front of them," Giles Gee explains, "and say ‘here are students who have needs, and they’re able, but they need some help. And so we’re raising money for scholarships to meet the demands of the jobs that will be available in the next century, or to be able to create the jobs that should be available in the next century.”
Giles Gee talks about creating jobs several times during the conversation. She’s convinced colleges need to play a role, but when technology can lead to new kinds of jobs, or change existing ones, she says colleges need to do more than provide specific technical skills.
“We’ve met with some business leaders," Giles Gee says. "We asked them what should Keene State be doing with regard to education, what are you looking for in terms of the workforce? And pretty much they talked about someone with the ability to think- adapt over the long haul, work in teams. And, true, for the manufacturers, some technical experience and know-how. But when we start to look at that, that’s really is the basis of a liberal education.
"We have over 70 manufacturers in the Monadnock Region who are all saying they needed more employees with the types of skills, those other soft skills and the manufacturing, for jobs that are available now. So I think you’ll see more collaboration than ever before between colleges like Keene State and businesses across the state for the quality of life of everybody.”
And Giles Gee says those collaborations can have other positive effects as well, in a state with the highest student debt load in the country, and a state with a great concern about the brain drain, new grads taking their diplomas and their skills out of state.
“When we talk about that question of student debt, how valuable for a student to possibly have a paid internship with the opportunity for a position they’ve already been educated for," Giles Gee says. "Isn’t that student more likely, then, to stay in the state? There are so many opportunities that abound, and that’s the type of education we want to provide.”
Helen Giles Gee has been president of Keene State College for eight years. She leaves the college next month.