Draft report outlines proposed Vermont State University cuts, changes

Published: Oct. 3, 2023 at 11:27 AM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - A draft report released Tuesday outlines proposed cuts and other changes to programs offered at Vermont State University in an effort to keep the newly merged institution afloat.

The report recommends eliminating 10 programs by next fall. Current enrollment in those programs totals 77 students, which represents less than 2% of the student body. Thirteen programs are recommended for consolidation and 11 programs are recommended to change locations.

VTSU Interim President Mike Smith says the cuts are necessary for financial sustainability and that no current students will be impacted by the proposal. “This is a normal process that I believe higher education should go through to make sure that their courses are relevant, that they are enrolled properly, that they are fiscally sustainable as they move forward. This is a normal process I would believe we would be doing anyway,” said Smith, who will be leaving the post next month after the recent selection of David Bergh as president,

Some of the proposed cuts include programs in agriculture, forestry, landscape contracting, applied business, computer engineering technology, music, performance, arts, and technology, photography, school psychology, and climate change science.

“If we keep to the status quo, the situation will not change,” Smith said. He says these decisions were based on current and future enrollment, student-to-staff ratios -- which should be about 18 to 1, the overall workforce needs of the state of Vermont, and which programs stand out on campuses. “We can’t offer courses in the future that are not relevant and not fiscally sustainable. No operation can do that, especially a university.”

About 77 currently enrolled students -- or about 2 percent of the VTSU student body -- will complete their course before the programs end. But up to 33 faculty will be offered buyouts or layoffs.

The plans also call for reducing the number of full-time faculty by up to 33 positions through a buyout program designed to forestall layoffs. Those details will be released soon.

Smith says the university ended last fiscal year with a $22 million deficit and that changes could result in savings of up to $3.3 million, meaning there’s more work to do to balance the books, either by more cuts or increasing enrollment.

Linda Olson with the AFT Vermont, the union representing faculty, questions the underlying data the recommendations are based on. She says any spending cuts should begin with the university administration. She also says job cuts are antithetical to growing the university. “If you want to increase enrollment, you have to have boots on the ground to do the work for the students. Cutting those positions of student-based faculty and staff is antithetical to the process,” Olson said.

VTSU officials say a plan to cut top university brass is also coming later this month. It’s all part of the latest effort to make the cash-strapped university financially sustainable. A years-long struggle with declining enrollment, rising costs, out-of-state competition, and low state support. The Legislature gave the colleges tens of millions in COVID cash under an agreement they would cut costs over five years. Top lawmakers say more funding isn’t off the table. “We will read the recommendations, take testimony to see if it achieves and is in the best interest of Vermonters, and we will respond,” said Rep. Diane Lanpher, D-Vergennes.

Some students say they want to see money invested better. “Not just sports, but extracurriculars. We don’t have club sports like we used to. Students arent interested in doing those things anymore and I feel like that could be improved,” said Karly Cordwell, a Lyndon senior.

Smith says that “mean-spirited” comments intended to either maintain the status quo or pick winners between campuses should be rejected. “Let us be clear, that will bring our entire community down,” he said.

Officials say the draft report was intended to solicit feedback from stakeholders, which can be submitted via their school dean.

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