MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — The head of the Vermont State College system recommended Friday that three of the system's residential campuses be closed due in large part to the economic shock produced by the COVID-19 epidemic.

Chancellor Jeb Spaulding said the long-struggling system is facing a deficit this school year of between $7 million and $10 million, including $5.6 million in refunds for refunds of room and board fees and moving to online learning. This year's deficit includes the expected $3 million in federal assistance.

Next year's deficit could reach $12 million.

In a statement, Spaulding said the decisions are necessary to preserve the Vermont State College system for generations to come.

“We are in truly unprecedented times like nothing we have ever experienced before in our lifetimes and we know the impacts of COVID-19 will linger for months, maybe years," Spaulding said. “We cannot wait and hope for recovery, we must act decisively to chart a course toward long-term viability.”

The Vermont State College system has been plagued for years with declining enrollment, due to the aging of Vermont's population and other challenges.

The system has about 11,000 degree-seeking students and 9,000 adults participating in continuing education programs. It includes the two campuses of Northern Vermont University in Johnson and Lyndon, Vermont Technical College, which is based in Randolph, but has a campus in Williston, Castleton University and the Community College of Vermont.

The proposal, which will go before the state college trustees on Monday, would close the Lyndon, Johnson and Randolph campuses. Liberal arts programs in Johnson and Lyndon would be moved to Castleton University.

The Community College “will maintain its key role providing a statewide network of access to academic programs, workforce development, and student advising,” Spaulding said

The proposal is described as a whole system transformation that would eliminate duplication of programs, reduce overhead and invest in programs that are in high demand economically viable and that provide high demand career opportunities for Vermont students.

The closure of the three residential campuses, expected by the start of the 2020-2021 academic year, would cost about 500 people their jobs. The chancellor's office will also be restructured and downsized.

“We know this represents more unwelcome change for students, employees and community members in an already stressful environment, but now more than ever, we urge people to recognize this transformation is critical to a sustainable future for public higher education in Vermont," Spaulding said.