Charting a path to sustainability at the Vermont State Colleges

by Lynn Dickinson, VSCS Board Chair, St. Albans

The optimization plans at Vermont State University (VTSU) chart a path toward financial sustainability by 2027, something that has eluded its legacy institutions for far too long.

When we set about this work nearly four years ago, we knew that it would be a multi-year process, informed by input from stakeholders at all levels of the organization, including faculty, staff, and students. We knew fundamental change was required from the familiar ways that we were used to and we would need to update our academic programs to be more relevant to our students and to increase efficiencies in our operations.

We knew some things would go away and other things would be built. What the legislature and Governor recognized, when they created the Select Committee on the Future of Public Higher Education in Vermont and later endorsed its recommendations, is that the Vermont State Colleges system had to transform to keep its institutions open and to thrive. And it will continue transforming in the years to come to better meet the needs of our students and the state.

The commitment to our host communities and the value of the system to Vermont have helped us stay focused on the ultimate goal of preserving the member institutions, even when single decisions have seemed hard.

We knew from the get-go that the stakes were high, and that the accessibility and affordability of rural public higher education in Vermont depended on us achieving this vision. Thanks to the steady and strategic leadership from system Chancellor Sophie Zdatny and VTSU leaders, we have sound plans in place to achieve financial sustainability. 

This is a profound accomplishment in higher education. We are incredibly proud of the team for having the fortitude to follow through on the transformation process – even in the tremendously difficult moments, of which there have been many—and we have confidence in the Chancellor’s Office and VTSU leadership to continue implementing these plans.

Every one of us seems to agree that we need to make structural changes and reductions as part of transformation, but everyone seems to think that the change should come from some other program or some other campus or some other department. The fact is that every single area of the system has been analyzed and evaluated in a process focused on sound metrics.

The Community College of Vermont has been part of the administrative consolidation, which has resulted in the creation of shared services between the two institutions for Information Technology, Finance, Human Resources, and Legal Services. 

Efficiencies have been realized across the system, including in the Chancellor’s Office, which now has only four positions.