VSCS Board of Trustees updates priorities

The Vermont State Colleges System adopted a new set of strategic priorities and welcomed two new members to the board at its Oct. 16 meeting.
VSCS Chancellor Sophie Zdatny introduced the updated strategic priorities and read the introduction. “The board’s strategic priorities for the system are to articulate the Vermont State Colleges’ mission and role in providing public post-secondary education in Vermont.
“The board is committed to achieving success acting as a fully integrated system that achieves financial stability in a responsible and sustainable way and ensures equitable access to, and completion of, a quality post-secondary education for all Vermonters, including those who have been marginalized or underrepresented historically.”
Below that overarching structure, there are three main priorities: affordability, accessibility, and quality and relevance of academic programming. As adopted by the board, “affordability means that cost and debt are not access barriers for students.”
According to the strategic priorities document, success on the affordability front will mean reduced total cost for students and families, increased low-income student participation and success in VSCS programs. Furthermore, students will leave the VSCS with manageable debt loads relative to current family income and future earning potential.
“Accessibility,” according to the updated priorities, “means that all Vermont students (including adult learners) will have a supported pathway to meet their educational goals, regardless of their financial means, rural geography, college readiness or technology/broadband internet access.”
Success on this front, according to the board, would mean increased access to VSCS programs regardless of race, age, or other background factors; students receiving the support they need to succeed as measured by retention and graduation rates and the “VSCS having a meaningful presence across Vermont, especially in rural areas regardless of historical access points…”
Quality and relevance of academic programming make up the third priority, working on two tracks: the student and the state.
For students, this looks like the provision of relevant programming, “positive return on investment relative to expected earnings,” and preparation for success in a global age, among others.
On the state side, “expectations of value include quality VSCS programs that are aligned with state workforce needs and that are offered in a fiscally responsible manner, delivered in ways relevant to today’s students’ and employers’ needs.”
Measures of success for quality would include VSCS graduates meeting externally recognized measures of achievement, such as passing licensure exams, and consistency of high-quality education and instruction across the VSCS system.
Meanwhile, succeeding on relevance would include developing degree paths that are “highly relevant to student goals and expectations of value in a career,” as well as offering programs that meet Vermont’s workforce needs and are delivered “flexibly in a modality that meets student needs and expectations.”
These priorities came out of the board’s Sept. 19 meeting. At that time, the board split into groups and came up with lists of ideas for updating the strategic priorities.
From there, Zdatny said, she and chancellor’s office staff created a draft for the board to consider and provide feedback between meetings. The updated priorities passed with almost no discussion.
Due to “limited bandwidth,” and all of the other moving pieces in the VSCS’s planning at the moment, Zdatny said that in consultation with the college presidents, her office would prepare a narrowed list of priorities to focus on in the immediate future.
This narrowed list will be presented to the Long Range Planning Committee at its Oct. 29 meeting and will be finalized at the Nov. 16 trustees meeting, Zdatny said.
Among other business, the board welcomed two new members, Mary Moran and Shawn Tester. Moran is a former superintendent of schools in Rutland. Tester is the CEO of the Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital in St. Johnsbury. “I’m very excited to be serving in this capacity and being a voice for the Northeast Kingdom,” Tester said.