The Senate Education Committee were joined on Tuesday by representatives from the Vermont State Colleges to discuss their Transformation Plan. Chairman Campion invited Chancellor Zdatny to outline for the Committee what the colleges will look like going forward, noting that "there is a lot of competition out there." Specifically, he pointed to Southern New Hampshire University as a competitor.
Zdatny took the Committee through the entire timeline of the Vermont State Colleges (VSC) from 2000 to present. She focused on the financial challenges that are facing the colleges, noting that "everyone understands the challenge ahead." Right now, VSC is trying to pay bills and meet payroll, that is the primary focus as they go through the transformation. Fortunately, the state "stepped in and helped financially."
She noted that it is important to "recognize the value of rural institutions." If one of those were closed the "state would need to evaluate the impact of such a closing" and whether the state would benefit from cost-savings to make a closing "worthwhile." In 2020, she shared, a number of groups came forward (labor unions and others) wondering what the future could look like. These groups came up with a number of key recommendations. Among them was to have only one university that was nibble flexible and competent. In 2021 the VSC Board of Trustees adopted some of the key recommendations that came out of these entities. Extensive training was provided to senior leadership and all individuals involved in the transformation process.
Zdatny has provided program updates on a regular basis to the Transformation Committee. She noted that a huge amount of work has been done and that the transformation team focused on shifting responsibility from multiple entities to a single one as the governance was shifted over to the new Vermont State University.
The library plan is in the document handed out by the Chancellor. Many recommendations were accepted by the board. The transformation committee was asked to ‘dream big’.
The Legislature asked the University reduce $5M in spending per year for the next five years (a $25M reduction in total). The identification of savings will become harder and harder as the years go on, she noted. Notices of layoffs have been provided to staff with the date of June 30, 2023, but the board has paused layoffs for the moment. Zdatny is expected to come back with a plan.
One shocking fact, she shared, is how facilities are being utilized. They learned that 30 to 35 percent of their space is sitting empty, which is "very inefficient." The college is "over resourced," she noted. So, the question before them is how to "right size" the actual footprint of the University. One member of committee asked if buildings could be reused for housing. Zdatny noted that dorms are centered around "group living" which means that retrofitting dorms for independent living could be very expensive.
The impact of hybrid courses were felt during Covid according to Zdatny. The numbers of students doubled during the pandemic because the college was trying to build flexibility and meet the needs of the students. However, presumably, this led to a decreased need for campus space.
There is a master plan being written by a consultant with several goals:
- Hybrid learning solutions.
- Career-ready and civic minded graduates.
- Building a community-engaged University which focused on rural advancement.
- Becoming an employee-centric University.
Zdatny hoped the master plan would be ready for presentation to the Board of Trustees in June.
Lynn Dickenson (Chair, VSC Board of Trustees) talked about the impacts the colleges have on the state’s workforce as they are preparing students with essential skills to support the workforce and economic development.