VTSU refines Optimization 2.0 program recommendations & buyout plan

Refined plan incorporates feedback from stakeholders, identifies additional areas for growth to meet students where they are with relevant, high-demand degrees and certificates.

by Mike Smith, Vermont Business Magazine In his last day at Vermont State University (VTSU), Interim President Mike Smith released the refined set of program offerings, called Optimization 2.0. The initial set of recommendations were made earlier this month, along with a buyout plan for faculty whose courses were being consolidated, moved, or eliminated and taught out over the next several years. The faculty consultation process is anticipated to conclude soon. The current refined plan is already informed by stakeholder feedback and comments submitted by faculty and deans. Additionally, areas were identified for growth potential such as allied health sciences, aviation, and early childhood education.

The academic optimization plan was accompanied by a generous and voluntary faculty buyout offer that recognized faculty members have different personal and professional goals and enabled faculty members to depart at the end of the calendar year with additional financial support. An estimated 20-33 full-time faculty positions out of the current 208 were pinpointed for reduction. 

To date, 17 faculty have opted for the buyout, 6 are retiring at the end of the academic year, and three will not have contracts renewed at the end of their one-year contract. Taken together, this means only one layoff will be necessary to meet the financial targets identified in the plan. 

Optimization 2.0, when paired with the recently announced administrative savings plan and corresponding reductions in staff, sets VTSU on an achievable and realistic path to fiscal sustainability for the first time in recent history.

“I want to thank the faculty who stepped up and took the buyout plan as part of this critically important optimization and restructuring effort,” said Interim President Mike Smith. “As we near completion of this work, I also want to express my pride in the team for their efforts to put forward a plan that both shapes a unified, financially stable, and stronger university and offers a thoughtful and generous economic package to support departing faculty during this transition. I am grateful to lawmakers and Governor Scott for their significant and ongoing investments that have allowed us to steady the ship and make these important changes over time. We no longer have to talk about there being a path forward for Vermont State University to be academically and financially viable because we are truly on our way with this important, albeit very difficult work.”

Optimization 2.0 called for programs to be either maintained, sunset, moved, or consolidated to save as much as $3.35 million annually. The plan is focused on bringing the total number of course offerings, currently at approximately 100, more in line with peer institutions who offer closer to 50. 

This will free up precious human and financial resources to better meet student needs in more relevant and in-demand programs. The goal is also to increase student-to-faculty ratios from approximately 1 to 13 today to 1 to 18 in the coming years as programs are taught out over the next several academic years.

“This has been a heavy and ongoing lift started by Chancellor Zdatny and carried forward by Interim President Smith and leaders through the system over more than three years now,” shared Lynn Dickinson, Chair of the Board of Trustees for the Vermont State Colleges. “We are proud of what we have accomplished and will remain focused and vigilant as implementation takes place.”

Interim President Mike Smith concludes his six months as head of Vermont State University today. Smith highlighted three primary objectives when he took the helm back in April of this year: 1) to achieve accreditation as a new university, 2) to successfully launch the new university on July 1st, including meeting projected enrollment targets for new and returning students, and 3) to establish a plan to optimize course offerings and chart a multi-year path for financial sustainability. 

“This incredible team has accomplished what we set out to do and now it is time for new leadership and fresh perspective to come and lead Vermont State University into its next exciting phase,” shared Smith. “There is still much work ahead to carry out these strategies and finalize the academic program array, but there will be so many more opportunities for growth and success for Vermont State University as it secures its financial footing and begins growing enrollment and programs to serve our students and our state into the future. It has been an incredible honor. Thank you.”

Interim President Smith ends his term today and Nolan Atkins, provost and vice president of academic affairs will serve in the short-term role of acting president before David Bergh joins the institution on November 15, 2023.

You can read the refined Optimization 2.0 Plan here.

About Vermont State University 

Vermont State University combines the best of Castleton University, Northern Vermont University, and Vermont Technical College and serves 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. Learn more at VermontState.edu.

Source: 10.31.2023. Williston, VT — Vermont State University