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Derry economic group looks at bringing higher education to town

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Union Leader Correspondent

March 23. 2018 10:46PM

 (Metro Creative Connection)

DERRY — The fourth-largest community in the Granite State does not have a community college or post-secondary institution, and the Derry Economic Development Advisory Committee wants to change that.

On March 19, the committee met with Mike Vlacich, president of the New Hampshire College and University Council, and advocated for an exploratory meeting with stakeholders, such as the school district, town council, municipal leaders and the 10-member State House delegation, to have a conversation about establishing a higher education presence in Derry.

No date was set, but the committee expects to have discussions in Derry in the next two months.

Committee member Terri Pastori said the idea of having a trade school or higher education facility has been kicked around in Derry for years, and noted the “time is becoming ripe” to elevate the discussion.

“I think it’s a fabulous idea,” she said.

“I look and (see that) Manchester has a community college; Concord has a community college; Nashua has a community college — Derry is right up there with population and we don’t have any kind of community college or credentialed program for people who want to go into the trades and such,” she said.

Vlacich said there is a desire to have educational institutions, especially higher education facilities, in a community from an economic development angle. But college officials must analyze the needs in each community.

He pointed to the success in Rochester where the city invested in Great Bay Community College. Derry economic leaders touted its growing health care and medical services in the town as an obvious pipeline for college-age students to get an education and enter the workforce locally with good-paying jobs.

Ultimately the college system could say the market does not have enough students for a full facility, but satellite programs are also an option.

“I want to have the schools have an opportunity to have that brainstorming conversation and have that freedom of exchange (with the town),” he said.

James Morgan, chairman of the Derry Town Council and liaison to the committee, said many students do not have the means to commute to community colleges outside of the region. If a facility opened in Derry, it could open the door for hundreds of students here.

Pastori agreed, saying it is an access issue because many high school graduates do not have the ability to get to class.

“I think that there’s a great group in Derry and with a workshop and some brainstorming and critical analysis of the situation, maybe that will unveil that (it’s) worthy of further discussion down the road with the stakeholders,” she said. “I think it’s worth doing.”

Morgan prefaced his comments by noting his reputation for “crazy ideas” and said the town is looking into closing an elementary school within the next two years. He said it is hard to find quality brick and mortar buildings and wondered if they could retrofit one of those schools into a community college.

“My feeling is if the community can come together and do something collectively where they’re partnering with one of these institutions and providing a facility and land to do it on, that’s a huge step in that process,” he said.

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