Vermont State Colleges merger plan moves forward

Dive Brief:

  • The Vermont State Colleges System board of trustees endorsed a plan Monday to merge its three residential colleges into a single, accredited institution. 

  • Castleton University, Northern Vermont University and Vermont Technical College will be unified by the 2023-24 academic year. The system’s two-year school, the Community College of Vermont, will operate separately. 

  • Concerns over whether the institutions would maintain their brands were raised during debate on the proposal, according to a local media report. Public higher education leaders in other states have sought to protect colleges’ identities during consolidations in part to help garner support.

Dive Insight:

The Vermont State Colleges System has long grappled with budgetary and enrollment issues. These were highlighted in a December report by a state committee formed to make recommendations on the system’s future. Although the pandemic did not create these problems,  “it surely has worsened them,” the report notes. 

The system combined two of its colleges — Johnson State and Lyndon State — in 2018, creating Northern Vermont. 

In an attempt to further address the system’s financial woes, former Chancellor Jeb Spaulding last April suggested it close three campuses and lay off nearly 500 employees. Swift backlash against the idea led Spaulding to rescind the plan and resign from the system. 

The new consolidation proposal preserves all of the system’s campus locations, board Chair Lynn Dickinson said in a statement. But their configuration “might look a little different” as the system tries to keep costs in check, Dickinson added. 

The new institution and the community college will each have their own presidents, who will report to the system chancellor. The system will also pursue “significant administrative consolidation,” according to the statement. Chancellor Sophie Zdatny said in the statement that the system is applying lessons from the Northern Vermont merger and past administrative consolidations and “will carefully consider any change that affects employees.”

Intra-system mergers aren’t always popular because alumni, lawmakers and the surrounding community want to protect their campuses from cutbacks and hold on to their local identities. 

Georgia’s college system drew ire in 2012 after rebranding the unified Augusta State University and Georgia Health Sciences University as Georgia Regents University. The system ultimately renamed the school under the Augusta banner a few years later.

Pennsylvania’s public system is currently working through a potential merger. Officials have stressed they would keep the names and brands of the six institutions they are seeking to unite as two separately accredited entities. As a part of that process, the system wants to maintain the athletics programs on all six campuses, but it needs the NCAA’s blessing.

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