Mike Smith: Optimizing academic array is an opportunity for Vermont State University

by Michael K. Smith, Interim President, Vermont State University There are certainly complex challenges in higher education and significant forces at play that a university like ours doesn’t control—our aging demographic, uncertainty about the value of higher education, and designing a delivery model that reaches and encompasses the rural nature of our state.

In the face of these challenges, Vermont stepped up. Led by Governor Scott, lawmakers, and the Chancellor, Vermont has made more than a $200 million investment in the Vermont State College System, which paved the way for the unification and creation of Vermont State University. 

This decision is about far more than money. It represents a commitment to equity, inclusion, and opportunity for the students we serve; many are first-generation college students, adult learners, single parents, and those of low or moderate incomes.

Vermont State University just welcomed more than 1,500 new students. About 70% of these new students are Vermonters. Additionally, we will see more than 700 plumbers and electricians coming through our apprenticeship program each year. 

It’s clear we educate Vermont. Our graduates are in demand. If you’ve needed a teacher, a nurse, a social worker, a mental health counselor, a plumber, an electrician, a childcare provider, or a dental hygienist in the past several years, you know they are hard to come by. And as demands in the workforce change, you will see us on the cutting edge, supplying graduates ready to work in the evolving disciplines of climate change science and sustainable engineering. 

This fall we expanded nursing space at Lyndon and will do the same at other campus locations in fall 2024, with additional nurses joining Vermont’s workforce each year. 

There’s no getting around the fact that we have much more work to do to realize the vision of transformation, but we are working hard to get it done. Faculty and staff are working on ways to reimagine how we do education in Vermont—and that means reaching into every corner of our rural state to make education accessible to all. We are also re-envisioning how we will grow enrollment with a new enrollment strategic plan, which includes reaching the adult learner and those 45% of high school students who are not going on to any schooling after graduation. We are also working on the ongoing structural deficit and developing a ten-year master plan to right-size our campuses. And this university must find ways to continually assist in meeting the needs of our Vermont workforce. 

And, very importantly, we must optimize our class sizes to align with our peer colleges and universities and help us maintain our fiscal stability. 

Vermont State University provides degrees, education, training, and certification for these and many other high-demand and high-wage industries. Across Vermont, prospective students of all ages and walks of life need to know that Vermont State is where they can come to pursue these and other careers. We will connect them with the educational opportunities and the social and financial support they need to succeed. 

My optimism about what Vermont State University can do to meet the future economic needs of the State of Vermont is rooted in my meetings with faculty and staff when I hear about the incredible work they are doing to inspire our students. 

I will close with an invitation to all of you—join us. Vermont State University is your university, and what we are doing is pretty darn exciting. Help us build a university to be proud of and where you would like to see your child, grandchild, or neighborhood child go. It’s affordable at $10,000 a year in-state tuition for most courses and scholarships on top of that. It’s accessible with campuses nearby, no matter where you live in Vermont, and online options for those who need and prefer them.

As we forge a new path, a new way, unified and stronger, offering programs to students on-campus and online that provide a clear and affordable path to a great job and a future here in Vermont.