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Report: Combine and Fund Vermont State Colleges

A set of public colleges and universities within the Vermont State Colleges System should be combined under one leader and accreditation, and the state should sharply increase funding for the institutions, according to a new set of recommendations Friday.

The recommendations come after the former chancellor of the Vermont State Colleges system, Jeb Spaulding, this spring recommended closing three campuses to balance budgets amid the pandemic. Spaulding resigned after public blowback, and public officials said they would take steps to support the system through the year, according to VTDigger.

But state officials also want the system to change course to become sustainable. Legislators tasked a special committee — made up of lawmakers, higher education leaders, students and faculty members — with making recommendations for the future.

Friday’s recommendations come from the first of three reports expected in coming months. The National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, a consulting group that has been brought in to address restructuring efforts for public university systems in other states, like Pennsylvania, prepared them for the Vermont committee.

They call for Castleton University, Northern Vermont University and Vermont Technical College to be unified under a single leadership structure and accreditation. The Community College of Vermont should remain a separate institution focused exclusively on sub-baccalaureate programming, according to the recommendations. But they say programming at the community college should add workforce-relevant education and training for adults and employers.

Recommendations don’t call for closing any campuses, although they do say the system should shrink its physical size and tear down some underused structures like residence halls.

Other recommendations include that the state increase its regular contributions to the state colleges from $30 million to $47.5 million per year, VTDigger reported. They also include more money for the Vermont Student Assistance Corp. to help state residents with the cost of attending classes. And they suggest several years of additional special funding to help the state colleges system transform itself.

The current chancellor of the state colleges system, Sophie Zdatny, indicated she’ll listen to the system’s Board of Trustees and lawmakers when laying plans for the future. The new recommendations indicate “that transformation will take time, and it will take money,” she told VTDigger.

Faculty and staff unions have released their own proposals for change that include additional public funding. Their goals call for unifying all four institutions in the system under a single accreditation.

The Vermont State Colleges System is a four-institution system that is separate from the University of Vermont, the state’s public land-grant research university that is having its own budget pressures and struggles over cost-cutting proposals.

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