Vermont Technical College campus of Vermont State University in Randolph Center. File photo.
Releases Recommendation for Multi-Year Path to Student-Centered Fiscal Sustainability
Vermont Business Magazine Vermont State University (VTSU) Interim President, Mike Smith was hired just five-months ago with three distinct objectives in mind: 1) achieve accreditation as a new university, 2) successfully launch the new university on July 1st, including meeting projected enrollment targets for new and returning students, and 3) establish a plan to optimize course offerings and chart a multi-year path for financial sustainability.
Smith, who is stepping down at the end of this month, has achieved the first two objectives, and with just one month to go in his tenure, his recommendations today help accomplish the third. The recommendations are informed by a months-long engagement process that included input from university leaders, faculty, and staff. Smith is giving way to David Bergh.
The draft report puts forward a plan that shapes a unified university that is stronger together, more efficient, and financially sustainable. The focus is to maintain and grow relevant, in-demand, and affordable degree programs for learners of all ages across rural Vermont and meet critical workforce needs.
“I took this job to change the trajectory of Vermont State University with a plan that is student-centered, fiscally sound, and honestly acknowledges the need for us to modernize and change," shared Mike Smith, Interim President of Vermont State University. “I also took this job because VTSU is too important to our state - our students and our economy - to languish. Today, I believe we can chart a course to fiscal viability and I am optimistic about its future. But it will take hard work and persistence moving forward.”
Critical components of optimization include aligning course offerings and the program array to meet today’s students where they are and focusing resources on ensuring programs are high-quality and in-demand.
Currently, VTSU offers 99 undergraduate degrees with some duplicate or similar programs at multiple VTSU campuses. Similarly sized universities offer closer to 50 degrees and program offerings.
Additionally, class sizes have been far smaller than they should be; 50% of courses on the Johnson and Lyndon campuses and 30% of courses on the Castleton campus have had 10 or fewer students enrolled. This is not only inefficient, it’s counter to the students’ best interest to have so few peers to interact and learn with.
The goal of optimization is to achieve class sizes with an average student-to-faculty ratio of 18:1 through a carefully planned, multi-year effort outlined in the recommendations. Key elements of the recommendations include:
- No current students will be impacted by this proposal. The new program array will be phased in over the next two years to “teach current students out” of their existing programs.
- Ten programs are recommended for discontinuation, beginning in Fall 2024. Current enrollment in these programs is 77 students, which represents less than 2% of the student body. Again, current students will not be impacted.
- Thirteen programs are recommended for consolidation. These are larger programs or programs with similar offerings at multiple legacy campuses. We intend to grow these programs over time as courses are streamlined and strengthened.
- Eleven programs are recommended to change locations. New students enrolling will attend in-person courses at the new location. Existing students will remain on their current campus.
- A buyout program for affected faculty will be offered. If there is sufficient uptake in the buyout program, layoffs may not be necessary. We anticipate $2.1-$3.35M in savings over the next two years as these changes are implemented. This is projected based on a reduction of direct expenditures by decreasing the number of full-time faculty by 20 to 33 positions out of the current 207.
- Immediately following the release of this report, Interim President Smith will develop a plan to achieve administrative savings. Those recommendations will be made before the end of the month.
- This is a draft report and we have intentionally allowed time for feedback from faculty and staff over the next several weeks.
Because the implementation of these recommendations is a multi-year process, Smith said, “We must start now. This optimization work is essential, and delays not only won’t change the economics of our situation, but it will exacerbate our long-term financial challenges. I fully appreciate the impact these decisions will have on individuals, there’s no way around that, but we simply must look at the big picture and the good that will come when we can focus on in-demand programs. We also have an obligation to Vermonters to be here for the next generation with affordable and accessible higher education and training opportunities. This plan is the next step forward.”
In recent years, VTSU has benefitted from significant state investments and support from lawmakers and Governor Scott. In turn, VTSU is charged with developing a path to close its ongoing structural deficit which was budgeted at $22 million for fiscal year 2023.
Incoming Interim President David Bergh will be tasked with the next phase of optimization by implementing the recommendations of the final report.
He shared Smith’s optimism for the future of Vermont State University, “I want to thank Mike and his team for this excellent and very hard work to help blaze a path forward. We know there will be challenges ahead, but we have an opportunity to achieve financial viability and serve our students better than before. It’s thrilling to think of the possibilities, and I’m excited for the work ahead.”
Final recommendations for optimization as well as plans for administrative reductions and efficiencies will be made by October 31st.
You can read the full draft report here.
ABOUT VERMONT STATE UNIVERSITY
On July 1, 2023, Castleton University, Northern Vermont University, and Vermont Technical College joined to become Vermont State University, serving students on five campuses and multiple learning sites across the Green Mountains and beyond, as well as online. Vermont State provides a high-quality, flexible, and affordable education for students seeking associate, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees, certificates, and in-demand professional credentials. The university builds upon a history of public higher education in Vermont dating back to 1787.
Source: RANDOLPH, VT — 10.3.2023. Office of the Chancellor | Vermont State Colleges. vermontstate.edu.