A state committee tasked with helping to address the urgent needs of the Vermont State Colleges System has made draft recommendations that the institutions be restructured, administrative services consolidated and that the state adopt a strategic plan for funding the system.
The chair of the VSC board said Monday that the panel would be reviewing the recommendations in the coming weeks.
“All parties must recognize the seriousness and the need for urgency in working together to address these problems,” the Select Committee on the Future of Public Higher Education in Vermont said in its initial report.
The state colleges system has struggled with a drop in the Northeast — and particularly in Vermont — in the number of high school graduates, low financial support from the state and competition from other schools. The pandemic worsened its struggles. This fall, Gov. Phil Scott signed a bill to provide bridge funding for the Vermont State Colleges System.
“It is no longer possible for this can to be kicked further down the road, with hopes that the individual institutions and the Chancellor’s Office will come up with cost reductions substantial enough to achieve long-term financial sustainability, without help from the legislature working in partnership with the governor’s office," the interim report said.
It follows a proposal by former Chancellor Jeb Spaulding last spring to close the two campuses of Northern Vermont University in Lyndon and Johnson and the technical college’s Randolph campus because of added financial troubles from the coronavirus pandemic. After public outcry over his proposal, he withdrew it and then resigned.
The committee has advised that Castleton University, Northern Vermont University and Vermont Technical College be unified under one leadership structure and accreditation while the Community College of Vermont remain a separate institution.
CCV should focus exclusively on sub-baccalaureate programming and expand it with a greater focus on workforce-relevant education and training for adults and employers, the initial report said.
The other three institutions should be unified with mission to provide affordable and accessible baccalaureate-level education, limited master’s programs and limited technical sub-baccalaureate programs in partnership with CCV, the report said.
The report also recommends that the state support the state colleges with a combination of one-time funding spread over multiple years and additional ongoing support. Some of the recommendations are consistent with actions the board has already taken, said Board Chair Lynn Dickinson, who stressed that the panel’s report does not recommend closing any campuses.
“This is a pivotal moment for the Vermont State College System,” Dickinson said in a statement. “The Select Committee on the Future of Public Higher Education has provided a clear roadmap to address the urgent needs of the Vermont State Colleges for now and into the future.”