By Edith Tucker
The Berlin Sun
BERLIN — “We’re all about students,” said White Mountains Community College president Chuck Lloyd, a high-energy speaker who pointed out he’s in his third year at the helm. “We offer wrap-around support services and high-quality programs. He praised the faculty and staff, pointing out there, too, it’s all about people. “(Employee) morale is high,” he said.
He also touted the enthusiasm and dedication of the student senate, whose members helped prepare a one-sheet “Fast Facts” handout. Each of the guests — advisory committee members and elected officials — who attended the annual fall dinner last Wednesday in the Bistro were given a copy. Culinary arts students, supervised by faculty, prepared a delicious buffet.
“Founded in 1966, WMCC is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education,” the handout reads. Classes are offered at Berlin, North Conway, Littleton and online.
Lloyd reported that the past academic year had included a successful re-accreditation effort, required every 10 years. Lloyd said that Community College System of New Hampshire trustee Steve Ellis of Pittsburg, who was on hand, had attended accrediting team visits.
Elected officials were also on hand: District 1 Executive Councilor Mike Cryans of Hanover; Berlin Mayor Paul Grenier; state Reps. Wayne Moynihan of Dummer, Larry Laflamme and Henry Noel of Berlin, Troy Merner of Lancaster, Erin Hennessey of Littleton, Sue Ford of Easton and Tim Egan of Sugar Hill.
Ben Belanger of Berlin, who represents U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan in the North Country, Gorham town manager Denise Vallee, Gorham Finance Director Cathy Frenette, and Berlin Community Development Director Pam Laflamme were also on hand. Numerous advisory committee members who provide the faculty with “real world” input to help ensure that WMCC’s associate degree and certificate programs meet student and regional needs had attended pre-dinner meetings.
WMCC needs to “right-size” itself so that its quality programs, outreach, internal structures and community relations can all work in sync to help students succeed, Lloyd said. Reducing barriers to student success has also been a focus, including giving help to students who can’t afford to buy a cafeteria lunch and struggle in class because they are hungry.
“That’s the White Mountains’ magic,” he said.
Thirty-nine percent of WMCC students are the first in their family to attend college.
White Mountain Community College’s graduation rate is 49 percent, while on average New England community colleges only achieve a 23 percent rate. Eighty-two percent of graduates are employed in their field of study or are enrolled in a four-year college; 85 percent receive financial aid; and 95 percent of classes have less than 20 students.
About a third of the students are male and two-thirds female.
“Today’s headcount is 713, with 189 first-time freshmen,” Lloyd said, adding there are 90 noncredit enrollments. There are now fewer high school graduates in the area than in the past.
At last May’s graduation ceremony, 118 associate degrees were awarded and 123 certificates, totaling 241 credentials conferred.
The top five certificate programs are: advanced welding, medical assistant, pipe welding, medical coding and veterinary assistant.
The top five associate’s degree programs are: health science, liberal arts, nursing, business administration and teacher education.
Lloyd pointed out that WMCC has developed a strategic plan that is a living, breathing document, continually adapted to meet today’s circumstances and needs. A new welcome center, designed to provide students with a single stop at which they can get answers to all their questions, has made a difference.
A student advising model has been adopted and renovations made to enhance the library, plus technology-security upgrades.
WMCC achieved a 100 percent pass rate on the nursing license exam (NCLEX) last year, and 29 of 32 first-year students moved on this fall into their senior year in the two-year program.
Running Start credits that high school students can earn for only $150 continue to boost student enrollment in a number of areas.
Lloyd is working to secure scholarship dollars from community organizations so even students from low-income families can get a foothold in a college program.
Academic program updates include offering both conservation law, which enrolled 15 students in its first year, and industrial mechanics, which includes wheelwright offerings.
Lloyd praised Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, her North Country representative Chuck Henderson, plus STEM professor John Holt, for helping to secure a $240,220 Northern Border Regional Commission grant for this training program developed through a collaboration between the college and regional industries to address critical skills gap that serve to impede business retention and expansion.
Some WMCC courses are rotated among the three campus centers.
Although many students take some online courses, none are 100 percent on-screen students.
WMCC has successfully transitioned its Child Development Center to a self-funded nonprofit organization, Lloyd explained. The college was able to absorb the $1 million deficit created by this program.
Last year’s $590,000 surplus is being used to fill needs, including a number of capital projects.
The just-passed state budget for the biennium included freezing tuition across the community college system.