Alumni meeting discusses unification



Elaine Collins

On March 10, NVU President Elaine Collins hosted an open meeting for alumni via Zoom to discuss plans for the unification of Castleton, NVU and VTC under a single accreditation.
“The last six years have been pretty unstable,” Collins said of the VSCS. She cited the lack of necessary funding from the state Legislature as the primary cause of the system’s hardships, resulting in year-to-year questioning of survivability.
“It has been a challenge every year to ensure that we are operating and providing the quality education… that we are known for,” Collins said. Collins said the proposed changes “will make [the VSCS] more stable in the long term.”
After Collins discussed the reasons for and nature of the changes, she opened the meeting to questions. The voices of around10 alumni were heard, and many were concerned about financial issues.
“The cost of another change has been estimated at $20 million,” Collins said. She said this estimate was inclusive of all parts of unification, including project management, marketing, reaccreditation and other expenses.
According to Collins, the merger of Lyndon and Johnson state colleges into NVU has saved the system a total of $9 million. “The idea is, if we have the rest of the institutions together there will be more savings possible,” she said.
When asked about the Legislature’s commitment to increasing funding, Collins admitted it was a concern of hers. “I worry sometimes that we have very short memory spans and we just don’t remember what we promised,” she said.
However, Collins is optimistic that the Legislature will take action to help sustain the VSCS as it moves through these changes. “It really will not serve Vermont well if anything happens to these Vermont State Colleges,” she said. “It just doesn’t make sense if the state isn’t going to live up to this promise.”
Some alumni also expressed concerns over branding and marketing, especially toward new students. Director of Marketing and Communications Sylvia Plumb commented on the matter.
“We are going to have to really get into the differentiators between the campuses to help students choose which campus is the right one for them,” she said, adding that this would be a much longer discussion–the first step of which is to pick a name for this new institution.
“It will take a while to work through all the important questions, so we know how best to market, how best to reach our students,” President Collins said. She noted a mission statement as another important early decision which she hopes is made within the next year.
Similarly, concern was expressed that consolidation would cause the system, and specifically NVU, to drift away from liberal arts education. Collins dismissed this, saying “I’m not quite sure exactly how this [belief] started, but… that is not the case.”
The makeup of the Board of Trustees was also called into question. Collins said that Chancellor Sophie Zdatny
“is open to the possibility of having additional folks representing” the perspectives of students and faculty.
Zdatny would have to work with the Legislature to make this decision.
Collins also described the process of reaccreditation that the VSCS will have to undergo. The first step is “to complete a substantive change proposal, which is the requirement to make a change that is as large as what we’re proposing.”
The proposal will be submitted to New England Higher Education Commission (NECHE), the VSCS accrediting body. Collins said that there are nine standards the new university will have to meet.
The NECHE standards cover categories such as the institution’s mission, governance system, academic programming, student and teacher bodies, resource availability, and transparency.
Collins also cited financial aid as an area which will require an overhaul. “Each one of us awards [scholarships] in different ways right now,” she said, adding, “we have to enter this process with a willingness to negotiate with each other.”
The unification process is expected to take several years. As the plan stands currently, the first incoming students to the new university would start their college careers in autumn 2023.