NVU launches strategic plan initiatives


Nolan Atkins

Since July 1, 2017, the transition team that was charged with aligning the Johnson and Lyndon campuses has shifted its priorities to generating a coherent strategic plan and unifying the operations for the launch of Northern Vermont University (NVU) on July 1, 2018.


During the spring 2017 semester, former JSC Academic Dean Daniel Regan assembled NVU’s substantive change proposal based on the transition team’s work. The proposal, according to NVU President Elaine Collins, will be evaluated in early October by a panel of commissioners from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC).


A decision on NVU’s accreditation status will arrive shortly thereafter to determine if the prospective university may secure financial aid from the United States Department of Education for its students.


NVU’s transition team has since become Collins’ leadership team, a 25-person roster that includes faculty, staff and administration from both campuses. In addition, an executive team has emerged made up of Collins, Provost Nolan Atkins, Dean of Students Jonathan Davis and Dean of Administration Sharon Scott.


Each member appointed to the leadership team will work as a lead in NVU’s implementation teams, meaning the groups that are completing the day-to-day tasks needed to prepare for unification, including working out each of six strategic priorities identified by Collins from various points along the unification timeline such as Regan’s proposal and public discussion.


Those priorities include the economic viability of NVU; emphasis on student engagement; retention and completion of their degrees; the assembly of innovative pedagogy and technology to complement the creative activities of students and faculty; relationships and collaborations with local, state and global communities; enhancing NVU’s reputation and image through branding and marketing; and emphasis on creating a diverse and inclusive learning environment.


“Another important piece of the structure here is that for each of the priorities… there’s a co-lead, so one Johnson person, a Lyndon person,” said Atkins, who will serve as the lead person in the creation of the plan. “They will need to identify other people that help them with the work of their priority. Each priority has a working group that has five or six people inside.”


The teams will work to finish the plan by the end of the semester, says Collins, which will serve as the “blueprint” for NVU’s core values and operations come August 2018. “For instance, [we will be] preparing all of the marketing materials, vetting all of the work that’s coming in from Ologie [NVU’s contracted marketing firm] regarding the brand, the logo, all of that work,” said Collins. “We’re preparing a new video to launch NVU. Somebody has to oversee that work for the campuses, so pulling together groups to make sure things are going in the right direction.


“That’s an example of the marketing team’s implementation work,” she said. “Admissions, on the other hand, they’re working on the new CRM [customer relationship management software] and that is Slate; they are currently admitting students with our old process, but in looking at building NVU, we’re redesigning all of our processes so that Slate will be ready for an NVU rather than a Johnson or a Lyndon.”


Davis, who along with Atkins and Collins now calls both campuses home, says that while he works with each of the priorities, he remains closest to is student engagement and retention. According to Davis, keeping students involved and on campus is a large part of their success in college and underscores what the plan is trying to accomplish.


“What opportunities do we have to ensure that students want to live on our campuses?” Davis asked. “What opportunities are we giving them to take a step forward and engage with the campus in a meaningful way? That’s going to be a critical piece. Because we know from research that those students have an advantage in terms of a connection to the campus and might be more likely to complete a degree.”


Davis points to other initiatives such as the consolidation of JSC’s and LSC’s Sodexo meal plans and student club collaborations as important to unifying the two campuses further. “As far as the official opening of NVU, the serious work is that we need to make sure that we are two campuses under one umbrella,” said Davis. “Where do we need to have consistency as far as policy procedures? There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes work being done there to examine how we do things from as simple as who generates keys on campus all the way up to the complexities of due process.”


And like the substantive change proposal, the strategic plan and consolidation processes have aggressive timelines. But when asked if the timeline may be too aggressive, Atkins insists that the work that has been completed will allow the teams to analyze trends such as the decreasing numbers of New England high school students and strategies to recruit new students and retain current students.


Other ongoing initiatives that both campuses will work on will be the development of NVU’s website and brand and a revamping of the two campuses’ course catalog and general education requirements. In addition, Atkins says he will observe data relating to the performance of academic departments and their respective degree programs.


Atkins, Collins and Davis urge students, faculty and staff to become involved with this “unique” unification and strategic planning process through a series of monthly updates and select presentations to mark their progress.


“This will be the next big deal since 1962,” said Collins. “It’s a huge, historical time for students to think about what they want their university to look like. How will the future be for the next 50 years or so for this place? I think that’s exciting for students.”