BERLIN – After serving longer than a year as interim president, Matt Wood was formally appointed president of White Mountains Community College Thursday. Meeting at the college, the Community College System of N.H. board of trustees also followed through on a promise to freeze tuition rates.
Wood led the college through a tough period that included lay-offs and the elimination of some positions. Ross Gittell, chancellor of the community college system, said Wood had done a good job reversing a three-year decline in enrollment and confronting challenges at the college.
“After a very successful year in the position as interim president, and following an evaluation that included input from a broad spectrum of the college community and stakeholders, I am very pleased to recommend the formal appointment of Matt Wood to the position of WMCC president,” Gittell said.
The board unanimously confirmed Wood’s appointment.
Wood said over the past three years enrollment declined a total of 21 percent at the college. The result was a ten percent cut in revenues because of the loss of tuition.
This semester, he said there is a 15 percent increase in credits sold. Wood said that does not mean there is a 15 percent increase in the head count at the college. He said there are about 800 students at the Berlin and Littleton campuses. He said there has been a big increase in on-line learning with the number of on-line credits sold increasing from 450 to 1,100.
Wood attributed the increase in credits sold to changes made last year. He said there was a focus on curriculum to better align it with what students want. Seven new online programs were created including health and wellness, accounting, criminal justice, and business administration and new offerings in library technology and autism education.
Wood said the college created a new STEM department to focus on those areas because companies report a need for people with technical skills. He said the college looked at areas that already existed and packaged them together to create the new department without spending additional money. The department includes environmental studies, welding, and life science, and the IT programs.
Staffing was realigned to reflect program demand and course scheduling was chance to help students maximize their time on campus and bring greater efficiency to teaching schedules.
Wood has also worked to build partnerships with regional employers and initiate programs at local high schools that help students enter postsecondary education with college credits already completed.
Under Wood’s leadership, the board changed its mind about moving the mobile equipment technology program to the Laconia campus. A new three-year contract was approved at the meeting to continue to lease space from Chapman Scrap Metal and Demolition on the city’s East Side for the program.
The college last spring eliminated four full-time faculty positions, two full-time staff positions, and did not replace two retiring faculty positions. The college now has 19 full-time on its teaching faculty.
While difficult, the reductions were described as necessary because the college was operating in the red. Asked if the college is now sustainable, Wood replied, “I think we’ve made steps.”
He stressed the results are for only one semester.
“We feel encouraged with our changes because we’re headed in the right direction. But we’ve very cautious,” he said.
Wood is a long-time educator who taught math and physics before becoming an associate vice president of academic affairs at N.H. Technical College in Concord. He seized the opportunity to accept the interim position at WMCC in July 2014 due to his love of the North Country and the opportunity to help strengthen the college amid demographic and economic challenges.
“I am honored to be confirmed in the position of president of WMCC,” said Wood. “WMCC is an essential resource for this region and I am absolutely committed to its success,” he said.
The board also formally voted to freeze tuition for the current academic year. The board had promised to freeze tuition if the legislation approved its budget request. Tuition was frozen for this semester provisionally while the board waited for the state budget to be enacted. The board had requested level funding for fiscal year 2016 and a three percent increase in its 2017 state appropriation.
“We recognize the challenge of college affordability for N.H. families and are pleased that we were able to work with the governor and N.H. legislature to freeze tuition,” said Gittell.
“Clearly this is great news for our students. The tuition freeze enables them to study where they live, and save thousands of dollars while they work toward their degree, or prepare to transfer to a four-year institution,” said Wood.
The college system reduced tuition last year and also froze tuition in 2013.
Trustee Stephen Guyer noted there had been some criticism of the decision to reduce tuition last year in light of staff and faculty cuts at some of the colleges. Some had argued the reduction, which came to $10 a credit or $30 a course, was insignificant and the money could have been used to retain full-time faculty to reduce the increasing reliance on part-time adjuncts. He asked student trustee Nathan Wells of WMCC if the reduction was important to students.
Wells replied that the dollar amount was not important but the concern it showed for the students was.
“That makes more of a difference to me than the extra $5,” he said.