Collaboration is the key to survival

The Monadnock region is rich in its commitment to education and the arts. It’s a place where people have long come for training and praxis in the theater, visual arts, music, as well as humanities. Close to 70 years ago, the Sharon Arts Center was incorporated with a mission to, as its website says, “provide education in the theory and practice of the arts and crafts through instruction, exhibitions and marketing assistance.” And more than 50 years ago, Franklin Pierce University was founded in Rindge as a liberal arts college. And there are many other examples of this commitment, some still around and others that have closed, which we could list.

But now there are reasons to be concerned about the fate of both institutions, as financial challenges loom.

The New Hampshire Institute of Art, which became the parent organization of Sharon Arts in 2012, has announced enrollment at the Manchester and Sharon campuses isn’t what was projected. While enrollment may be up or holding steady at Franklin Pierce, but deep tuition discounts mean the school isn’t taking in what it would at full-price tuition, according to Doug Ley, president of the faculty union. Plus, FPU’s debt far exceeds the university’s meager endowment, Ley said in an interview last week, following President James Birge’s announcement that he will be stepping down after the next school year.

For schools throughout the Northeast and beyond that rely on tuition and donations for the major part of their revenue streams, the past handful of years haven’t been easy. And now, as Ley said, FPU at least is down to the bone, with administrators asking faculty for concessions.

The global economy is transforming the face of higher education, with demands of the market, particularly for affordability, shifting the tide that at one time saw a steady increase in tuition costs. With the real world closing in, it’s hard to imagine the college campus ever being the same.

The days of going to school for four years straight or more, racking up tens of thousands in college loan debt, and worrying about it later are over. What’s more, the same decline in population our public schools in New England have seen in recent years is affecting colleges and universities, too. But the question is how will our beloved institutions survive?

Sharon Arts had the foresight to look for collaboration opportunities with NHIA, and NHIA has recently been looking at other such opportunities, namely with Southern New Hampshire University. Though that plan is on hold at the moment as the school works to build consensus among staff, collaboration may be the key to their survival nonetheless.

As Ley has pointed out, collaboration has to permeate the entire institution. Constituents, particularly faculty and students, want and need to know what’s happening. Their support and loyalty will go a long way, as sacrifices and concessions are required.

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