By Tommy Gardner
By this time next year, the state colleges in Johnson and Lyndon could be one institution with two different campuses, based on a recommendation by the system’s chancellor.
The move could also help stem rising tuition costs, deal with stagnant state aid, expand educational offerings and improve the schools’ chances of a healthy future.
No worries, though, Badgers and Hornets faithful. There are no plans to combine your mascots into some pointy-nosed mammal with a stinger.
Jeb Spaulding, chancellor of the Vermont State Colleges, delivered his merger recommendation to the system’s long-range planning committee on Wednesday, and is expected to brief the state colleges board of trustees today.
Unifying Johnson State and Lyndon State colleges under one administration would result in a “larger and stronger college with two distinct campuses, each with its own identity,” but with a shared administration, budget, and a single accreditation, Spaulding says. Students at one campus could take classes at the other, sometimes using remote “telepresence” classrooms.
“Higher education is being challenged by new modes of delivery, and we’re trying to make sure we’re not being left behind. I see this as a prudent move,” Spaulding said in a telephone interview this week. “What I would say to prospective students is, ‘Hey, you can get all the opportunities at both colleges as you could at either.’”
Spaulding said that, despite strong efforts to spend thriftily and efficiently, the Vermont State Colleges still have the highest per-student operating costs in New England, because the smaller schools — Johnson’s and Lyndon’s enrollment fluctuates between 1,000 and 1,500 students — still have the administrative needs of larger colleges.
“We get this question all the time. ‘Why do you have five of everything?’” Spaulding said.
He was referring to the five higher-learning institutions that comprise the Vermont State Colleges: Johnson State, Lyndon State, Vermont Technical College, Community College of Vermont, and Castleton University. That’s five presidents in charge of five budgets, more than a dozen deans, and a smattering of administrators and their assistants at each place.
There is also talk of collaboration between Vermont Tech and the multi-campus, pay-per-class Community College of Vermont, although a unification model like the one proposed for Johnson and Lyndon would be logistically difficult.
As far as Castleton, it just achieved university designation last year, and Spaulding said that, since it has at least 1,000 more students than the other state colleges, there’s really no need to change its governance model.
One team, two campuses
Spaulding’s team has looked at the way other states — including Maine, New Hampshire, New York, Minnesota and Georgia — have worked to form alliances in their state colleges.
Today’s recommendation has been in the offing since January, but many nitty-gritty details remain to be worked out.
One thing is clear, though. The Johnson and Lyndon campuses will retain their distinct identities. The Johnson Badgers will still be able to duke it out with the Lyndon Hornets in NCAA Division III contests. Johnson will still be able to keep its recent recognition by the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges.
The unified Johnson and Lyndon institution — it’s still unclear what the name of the new college would be — will have one president. Elaine Collins, hired just last year as Johnson’s president, would oversee the unified college, with her support staff split between the two campuses.
The timing works out well, as Lyndon President Joe Bertolino is leaving to become president of Southern Connecticut State University.
When Spaulding and Collins were hired as chancellor and college president at about the same time in early 2015, there was no notion that Collins might, two years later, be leading a college twice the size.
“It’s a fairly big ask for Dr. Collins, but she is on board, and she sees the potential benefits for everybody,” Spaulding said.
If the Vermont State College trustees approve Spaulding’s recommendation, there’s a lot to do in the next year — the larger unified college would become official July 1, 2017. The board was expected to assign Spaulding to come up with a much more detailed report and analysis by the end of September.
“I don’t want to underestimate the heavy lifting we have ahead of us,” Spaulding said.
Spaulding is a longtime government official. He served eight years in the Vermont Senate, then was elected Vermont state treasurer, then became secretary of administration for Gov. Peter Shumlin. He also founded radio station 104.7 — WNCS, The Point — with his wife in 1977.
Even before he became chancellor in January 2015, Spaulding was saying what his predecessor, Tim Donovan, had been saying for years: Vermont doesn’t fund its state colleges well enough.
He pointed out last month that Vermont is 47th in the nation in its public support for its public colleges, and he has pushed the Legislature for more.
With that in mind, Spaulding said combining Johnson and Lyndon into one entity would only increase the chances that the Legislature will increase funding for the Vermont State Colleges.
“It sends a very positive message to the state that we’re interested in operating as efficiently as we possibly can,” he said.
This Week's Photos
NO SHORTAGES OF UMPIRESPHOTO BY ANDREW MARTIN
Fans and coaches are all ready to make a call as Lamoille County’s Dylan Sautter slaps the tag on a St. Albans runner during the Little League All-Star District 3 title game. Sautter got the out, but St. Albans won the game, 5-0, to move on to the Vermont state tournament. Lamoille went 2-2 in the tourney, losing a heartbreaker to St. Albans earlier in the week, then falling again in the finals. More photos in Sports, Page 18.
This Week's Photos
NO SHORTAGES OF UMPIRES
PHOTO BY ANDREW MARTIN
Fans and coaches are all ready to make a call as Lamoille County’s Dylan Sautter
slaps the tag on a St. Albans runner during the Little League All-Star District 3 title
game. Sautter got the out, but St. Albans won the game, 5-0, to move on to the Vermont
state tournament. Lamoille went 2-2 in the tourney, losing a heartbreaker to St. Albans
earlier in the week, then falling again in the finals. More photos in Sports, Page 18.