State of the college:

Task forces for success

President Elaine Collins

Kayla Friedrich

President Elaine Collins

At her first annual State of the College Address held on Monday, Nov. 1, President Elaine Collins discussed the small boost in retention, the continuing decline in enrollment and the task forces that she has established to ensure that the fiscal year 2016 budget is balanced in spite of this.

After having nearly 100 meetings with internal groups and 50 meetings with external groups, President Collins said that the college would be able to balance the budget by accessing only a minor portion of the reserves, so the next steps to take are those that ensure the budget will remain balanced for future years. Because the student population determines much of Johnson State’s budget, this means focusing on attracting and retaining students.

“One again our college has been named one of the top 100 most affordable colleges,” said Collins. “Still, the VSC system, and all of its colleges continue to face a series of enrollment and financial challenges caused by the decline of traditional-age college students in New England, coupled with the fact that no new moneys will be dedicated to public higher education from the state of Vermont.”
As budgets grow tighter, institutional competiveness increases, and concerns about relevance increase. According to Collins, this combination will create continued challenges over the next few years, and the college needs to actively reshape its recruitment strategy to make it more attractive to out-of-state students. This fall, enrollment was once again, slightly below target, with a drop of approximately 4.9 percent, and President Collins plans to roll out a new financial model that would make JSC more affordable for out-of-state students before enrollment this spring.

The dual enrollment and the early college programs have helped to boost in enrollment a little, so Collins said that these programs should also be expanded in the future. On top of this, Collins said the administration is working to expand services for the off-campus market as well as those for external degree program and non-traditional learners.

“This work will necessitate making transfer to Johnson State easier than ever,” said President Collins. “I’ve already seen an uptick in the on-boarding of transfer students due to the preliminary work of Elga Gruner [assistant director of admissions]. To this end, I anticipate that a fulltime position will soon be posted for a technical person dedicated to transcript review and communications specific to transfer students.”

Additionally, President Collins has put together seven task forces to create college plans in specific areas. Director of Communications Deb Bouton is heading up the integrative marketing task force; Dean of Academic Affairs Dan Regan is running one focused on academic quality; Dean of Administration Sharron Scott is covering information technology; Director of Alumni Relations Lauren Philie’s task force is targeting fundraising; Dean of Student Life Dave Bergh is handling Diversity; Registrar Doug Eastman is heading the institutional effectiveness task force; and lastly Director of First-Year experience Margo Warden and Associate Dean Penny Howrigan are teaming together to work on enrollment.

Most of these task forces have met at least once to help lay the foundation for a new 5-year strategy, and to plan next semester. A student advisory council has also been established to help enhance the student experience on campus.

While all of this is going on, Johnson State is also due for its 10-year New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) accreditation review this year, and is pushing to become the designated Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges (COPLAC) school for the region by the end of the academic year.
A name change has also been a part of the discussion following Castle State’s name change, but President Collins does not think it will go anywhere.

“I think it is a possibility,” said President Collins, “but I would caution us to make sure that it really is in line with what we are delivering. I’m looking at other liberal arts colleges in the state, and they don’t have a need to change to a university status, but rather they’re promoting an individualized, small setting. I don’t want to lose that, because that’s a big draw for students here, and I think we do that well.”

President Collins says she is very open to suggestions on how to bring this college out of the deficit, and to promote the college to more students. She wants out-of-the-box thinking coupled with transparency and an opportunity for voices to move this college forward in an efficient and productive manner.