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Granite State College Steps into the Spotlight
Published Thursday, September 14, 2017

Since it launched 45 years ago, Granite State College has struggled to share the educational spotlight enjoyed by the University of NH, UNH Manchester, UNH School of Law, Keene State College and Plymouth State University, even though it is also part of the University System of NH (USNH).

It was originally conceived as a vehicle to serve working adults and other non-traditional students, and founded in 1972 with a few baccalaureate and associate degree programs. And while it has since expanded its offerings to include post-baccalaureate certificates and master’s programs, developed nationally recognized online programs (it is ranked first in NH for online education by U.S. News and World Report at both the undergraduate and graduate levels) and serves students through eight centers throughout the state, the college has also undergone several name changes and struggled to cement its identity in the public consciousness.

A young child embraces his dad after the 2016 Commencement ceremony at Granite State College. Courtesy photo.

But that is changing under the leadership of Mark Rubinstein, who was named president at Granite State College in 2015. Rubinstein has served in a variety of leadership roles within the University System of NH since 1998 and played a critical role in helping UNH establish stronger partnerships with the Community College System of NH.

That experience in building partnerships has driven the development of the new GSC Learning Solutions division, which Granite State College will launch in the fall. The  division is aimed at helping businesses and organizations in the state to tap into the college’s resources to develop the training and professional development opportunities they need for their workforce.

That can range from one-day and half-day professional seminars to customized certification programs. Working with the school’s development team, an organization can identify specific training needs and then develop, customize and produce courses and programs to fill the gap. The design team can also create an online training program that can be accessed by employees from home or work to allow for on-demand, self-paced training.

USNH Chancellor Todd Leach, who previously served as president of Granite State College, says the new GSC program helps the college fill the need for an educational “rapid response team” in NH that can help businesses with urgent training needs.

GSC Learning Solutions draws together  existing programs and services at the college and adds new options for professional development through open enrollment training, courses, certificates and programs, says Johnna Herrick-Phelps, vice-provost for academic affairs. “These will be offered in a face-to-face format at Granite State College locations throughout the state as well as online and in hybrid formats,” she says. “We are also able to provide the same programming within the workplace for our partner organizations.” It can create onsite workplace training programs that allow participants to earn college credit toward degrees.

GSC Learning Solutions will offer an online learning platform designed specifically for its partner businesses and organizations that provides on-demand, self-paced training and tutorials.

Branding Challenges
So why is a state college that serves more than 4,000 students annually through eight locations that stretch from Nashua to Littleton not better known? Rubinstein likes to joke that many people don’t know about his school because it has a history of name changes that’s “more appropriate for someone in the federal witness protection program” than for a state college.

After earning his associate degree in nursing from River Valley Community College, Aaron Corbett pursued his B.S.N. online at Granite State College. Photo by David Vogt.

It was originally the School of Community Studies, but before it even opened its doors, its name was changed to the School of Continuing Studies. In 1979, it became the College of Lifelong Learning, which is still the name most people recognize. And it was finally redubbed Granite State College in 2005.

While Rubinstein admits the changes have presented a branding problem, he says the school is making its mark by building on its original focus of providing educational opportunities to the state’s “non-traditional” students.

“They’re adult students who may have other obligations with work and family, but who are also ready to make an investment in themselves,” says Tara Payne, Granite State College’s vice president of enrollment management.

Serving Working Students
Who are the 4,000 students that attend Granite State College annually? The mean age of an undergrad student is 34; the graduate class averages almost 40 years old. About 90 percent of the students are already working, says Payne, with approximately two-thirds holding down full-time jobs while taking classes.

Almost 90 percent of students have previous college experience, and one in eight have either active or previous military affiliations. About 25 percent of students are engaged in some form of business education. “Some of our people go to the career services office before they go to the admissions office [to enroll],” Payne says. “They want to know: What is the path that I need to take? What do I need to know to advance my career?”

The college helps make the transition from worker to worker/student as easy as possible. In addition to accepting course credits from other educational institutions, it has several ways for students to earn college credit for professional training or work experience. It administers standardized equivalency tests that students can use to demonstrate knowledge or skill level on a par with college-level courses. In addition, military personnel earn credit for basic and other training experiences. And GSC provides a wide selection of online courses. “About 80 percent of our instructional activity is provided through online courses,” says Herrick-Phelps. Reta Chaffee, director of GSC’s educational technology, says the school offers between 200 and 300 courses online every semester, and it works with GSC instructors to develop effective, interactive curricula.

Jenn Schaffner, B.S. in Business Management, 2017, finds that her coursework is helping her gain confidence as she grows her career at the Bank of NH, where she works in the training department. Photo by David Vogt.

Filling Workforce Gaps
The new GSC Learning Solutions division is just one of the ways the college is connecting with the business community to see where there are training gaps it can help to fill. “Now, we’re reaching out to businesses, to nonprofit organizations, to chambers of commerce to understand what the needs are for our [state's] employers,” Rubinstein notes. As part of that outreach, several advisory boards have been developed, culling input from industry insiders.

Easterseals NH, a nonprofit social services agency with more than 1,400 employees serving more than 26,900 children, adults and seniors through 90 programs, turned to Granite State College when it needed help developing the next generation of leaders. Senior managers were retiring, and middle managers who were poised to replace them needed enhanced leadership training in communications, team-building, conflict resolution, coaching and managing. GSC helped the organization identify and develop the training tools, as well as an intensive six-month Leadership Academy, to support incoming leaders. So far, more than 40 people have graduated from the program.

“Professionals in the nonprofit sector who have the capacity and the desire to hone their leadership skills often face limited opportunities for professional development due to lean budgets,” says Larry J. Gammon, president and CEO of Easterseals NH. “By working with Granite State College, we were able to deliver a comprehensive leadership development program to our employees that will help them grow as professionals and position them to support the organization at a higher level.”

The school had similar success working with Dartmouth-Hitchcock to design an online program that will help train employees for advanced professional surgical technology certifications.

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