NCHEMS presents preliminary report

During and after their presentation to the Vermont Select Committee, NCHEMS (National Center for Higher Education Management Systems) representatives Brian Prescott and Dennis Jones were met with opposition to their initial draft of recommendations for the Vermont State College System’s (VSCS) future.
The initial draft was a 21-page bulleted document that included the history and context of the fiscal situation of the VSCS and ended with preliminary recommendations for the system. Unfortunately, NCHEMS overlooked a key aspect of NVU-Johnson’s history as a celebrated, COPLAC-designated liberal arts campus. Several members of the select committee pointed this out, including Senator Philip Baruth and Representative Kathleen Jones, both of whom are regarded as champions of the VSCS in the legislature.
Senator Baruth noted that the portion titled “State Needs” did not include what he called the “traditional path” of the VSCS in the liberal arts, and Representative Jones added that she did not see “strategic thought” in the document. “This can’t just be about workforce needs,” she said.
Sarah Buxton, another committee member, disagreed, citing that the directive of the committee was about the Vermont economy. “I wonder if it was intentionally omitted,” she said.
Baruth jumped in to add that he and Representative James had written the charge, not intending to omit the “creative economy.” “If we leave [the liberal arts] out,” he said, “it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
Prescott and Jones did not delve deeply into the first part of the report, opting instead to skip almost to the end and report on their first draft of recommendations.
The first recommendation from NCHEMS sees VTC maintained as a separate institution from the other VSCS schools, assuring that priority is given to sub-baccalaureate programs and assures employer contacts for students.
NCHEMS suggested that VTC expand the delivery of what they consider “workforce-relevant” technical education, in collaboration with CCV and Vermont employers.
The controversial part of the document came in the second recommendation, which is vague in its intentions. The document suggests two paths for the future of Castleton University and NVU. One includes unifying both institutions but keeping identities separate, while the other would see the two schools stay separate. Unfortunately, the latter also includes moving most liberal arts programming to Castleton, thus cutting off vital educational services to the northern tier of Vermont.
At a faculty assembly meeting on November 10, NVU President Elaine Collins admitted her disappointment in the report. “It reads like a workforce development document, period,” she said. “I was very upset by it.”
Collins said that the document pays lip service to liberal arts but does not acknowledge the national recognition of the Johnson campus in its COPLAC designation.
Collins emphasized that the document was preliminary and that there were two more opportunities to share public comment, on Nov. 23 and Nov. 30.
The other problematic facet of the report came in the lack of attribution to the NVU Strong committee. Much of the report focuses on VTC and CCV, leaving very little to NVU and Castleton. Most of the recommendations from NCHEMS that focus on the working-learning plans for NVU were devised by the NVU Strong Committee and were not attributed. “Without any attribution,” said Collins, “it looked like the whole discussion was around VTC and CCV. That’s what people are trying to articulate [to NCHEMS.]”
Some stakeholders including members of the committee wondered why NCHEMS had not considered the idea of one accreditation, but Jones and Prescott clarified their intentions. NCHEMS had found that CCV’s model of delivery was working better than most other college systems in the country, and they did not want to recommend unification for worry that it would “confound distinctiveness across the system” and “obstruct and devalue the business model of CCV,” which was working so well.
Prescott also noted that the “unraveling” of NVU to go with a full-state accreditation model would be difficult.
NCHEMS’ other recommendations suggest adding education programs to serve statewide needs, and developing and enhancing programs like tourism, environmental science and meteorology to mirror the strengths of Vermont itself.
Collins ended her comments at the assembly meeting by asking the faculty members to get involved and stay involved. “You did it once before, and it really worked,” she said. “We need that right now. We need a strong voice.”