All of us at Northern Vermont University are greatly relieved that the immense value NVU and Vermont Tech-Randolph bring to Vermont has been recognized and that the former Vermont State Colleges Chancellor took his proposal to close NVU and Vermont Tech-Randolph off the table. However, we also recognize business cannot continue as usual. Significant challenges, greatly exacerbated by COVID-19, call for a right-sizing and substantial transformation of the entire Vermont State Colleges System.
NVU is vital for northern Vermont’s economy. NVU’s total economic impact in northern Vermont is estimated at $113 million annually. The university also provides critical access for students in pursuit of higher education. More than half of NVU students are first in their family to attend college. And the vast majority of students (70%) who attend NVU are Vermonters and live in close proximity to our campuses. Many of these students are Vermonters who would not attend college at all if NVU did not exist.
But if NVU is to continue to exist, to be an economic engine for northern Vermont and a vital academic tool for Vermonters, change is needed. To help develop these changes and secure NVU’s future, NVU has formed the NVU Strong Advisory Committee. The committee is charged with identifying financially sustainable models and initiatives that will right-size NVU and collectively ensure NVU can serve Vermont students and communities for generations to come.
The NVU Strong Advisory Committee’s task is not an easy one. The financial challenges facing NVU and the VSCS are real and they are sobering. Declining demographics, years of low State support, and excess capacity in facilities that must be maintained, combined with the fiscal pressures of COVID-19 and the damage inflicted to enrollments by the former VSCS Chancellor’s proposal, have created a perfect storm. To continue to serve Vermonters into the future, NVU’s budget will need to be reduced by 15-25% annually starting in FY22. This is not a reduction that can be achieved with small changes and local fundraisers. It is a reduction that calls for substantial change, innovatio, and modernization.
The NVU Strong Advisory Committee will meet throughout the month and deliver recommendations to NVU President Elaine Collins at the end of May. The committee has already begun work with ideas and suggestions submitted by community members and collected via NVU’s website. Through these ideas, we are seeing the innovation and creativity our communities are so well-known for. Nearly 200 ideas have been submitted and will be carefully considered by the committee. You can follow the committee’s work at NorthernVermont.edu/StrongFuture.
COVID-19 has disrupted everything. It has brought with it suffering, financial hardship and uncomfortable changes. Yet, it has also presented us with an opportunity to institute changes that if done right, will be good for the long-term health of our society. Right-sizing NVU today will help ensure it remains an educational resource and an economic engine for generations to come. All of us at NVU are confident this committee will harness the innovation, creativity and common sense Vermonters are so well-known for and develop a sustainable plan for NVU’s future.
Nolan Atkins is Northern Vermont University Provost.