Senate hears state college consolidation pitch

Special to Vermont Daily

United they stand, divided they fall. That’s the gist of the Vermont State College (VSC) consolidation plan pitched Thursday March 18 by Chancellor Sophie Zdatny to the Senate Education Committee.

Zdatny stressed that VSC employs and educates more Vermonters than all other higher education institutions in the state combined. However, their operations are not sustainable. Achieving the best outcomes for students will require systemic and cultural change within the state college system, she said.

The state colleges are looking to re-evaluate their program offerings so they provide a full range of credential and certificate programs in addition to their degree programs. To do this, they want to reduce their physical footprint (fewer buildings not fewer locations) and expand program offerings. To address financial issues, they also want to reduce administrative cost and pursue a common accreditation. They have already seen some of these benefits through the recent consolidation of Lyndon State and Johnson State Universities in the new Northern Vermont University.

Under the new plan put forward by the VSC board of trustees, Castleton University, Northern Vermont University, and Vermont Technical College would combine into one institution, eliminate duplicative programs, expand offerings to all locations, and reduce administrative overhead. 

Senators questioned what performance indicators would be used to measure a successful transition. According to Zdatny, all the colleges have already committed to affordability, accessibility, availability of programs, and relevancy of programs as the accountability metrics. In addition to this, reducing expenses and increasing enrollment and revenue are also metrics being tracked by the trustees.

There was also a spirited debate around keeping Castleton as a separate institution because of the strong brand it has developed. Ultimately Zdatny and her team argued that Castleton (and the rest of the system) could not be successful long term if it remained separate.

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