It’s been an honor


courtesy of John Mills

Interim President John Mills

As we approach the end of the semester—and for those graduating—I wanted to post one last message. First, it has been very rewarding to be able to serve you as the NVU President. Every day I am reminded of the very positive effect that the faculty and staff have on your development and preparation for future success. It makes it so worthwhile to see what you are achieving and how you are contributing to our community both on the campuses and the world at large.

Recently we had a Town Hall for NVU and the topic was our present state of enrollment and how this relates to staffing changes that have occurred over time. A question raised by a student attending the session was why we haven’t communicated better with the student body on this issue. I acknowledged that the point was well taken and that we would try to do better. So, this is a start.

Over the course of the last several years NVU has seen a significant decline in campus-based enrollment. Several factors have contributed to this. One is the well-described “demographic” shift that is occurring. Birth rates have declined continuously for well over a decade and Vermont and the rest of the New England states have not been immune from that. Thus, there are fewer high school students in our recruitment areas from which we can generate a class. And this decline will continue and get worse in the next few years. Add to this the challenges presented by the concern over the viability of the Vermont State Colleges (VSC) system and the restrictions due to the pandemic and we now have an institution much smaller than it was.

However, there is now new commitment and energy directed at stabilizing and growing your university. First, the state legislature has committed significant new funds to help bridge the gaps that have developed. In that commitment is the stated fact that all campuses will remain as a part of the VSC. Secondly, there is a “transformation” in process to bring the current member institutions of the VSC (NVU, Castleton, and Vermont Tech) under one administrative structure to gain efficiencies, but also to work toward increased accessibility and affordability for all students especially those from Vermont. The system is well on the way to completing that transformation–including involving a student group that meets regularly with the Chancellor– so that we will see all of us as part of the new Vermont State University on July 1, 2023.

As we progress to that new beginning there are serious and important issues that need to be addressed and settled. One is the simple fact that our “built space” is more than we need to satisfy enrollment demands now and in the foreseeable future. So, the Chancellor’s Office is working on the inventory across the system and then working on a plan as to what should/could be done with the excess space: repurpose, lease, sell or even demolish. This process will take time and lots of deliberation by each location. But to reiterate, the goal is to reduce costs and gain efficiencies so that we meet the requirement of affordability.

Finally, the decline in enrollment has meant that we needed to correct our employment situation to meet current needs of the students. So as employees (faculty and staff) have left each position is reassessed as to the highest priority needs and in some cases the decision, difficult as it is to make, is to not replace the vacancy. Thus, for some of you here during these last few years, you have seen changes in staffing or offerings that leave you asking what is happening. I can assure that each of these reductions is done only after thorough evaluation to determine what is the impact on the student experience and how it can minimized.

Going forward the goal is to make VTSU as affordable and accessible as possible for both Vermont residents and out-of-state students. We have an educational experience here that is top-notch and can compete with any other system. We need your input and commitment to help us reach that goal. In my remaining time I am arranging to meet with students who wish to join with us in the effort. I will be sending out information on those get-togethers soon, so you get engaged now and are excited about continuing in the next school year.

Again, I appreciate the honor of serving as your President and am truly impressed with your achievements and commitment to NVU. Let’s keep working together to make your institution all that you want it to be.

John Mills is interim president of NVU and will be departing in June.