NVU advisory committee presents recommendations

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LYNDON, Vt. (WCAX) A committee looking at the future sustainability of Northern Vermont University released its recommendations Thursday.

NVU's Lyndon and Johnson campuses have faced declining enrollment and financial challenges over the years that have become exacerbated by the pandemic. They were among three Vermont State College campuses slated for closure under a proposal floated earlier this spring by Jeb Spaulding, the former chancellor of the Vermont State Colleges System. After a major backlash from students and faculty, Spaulding shelved the plan and then resigned.

The NVU Strong Advisory Committee has been meeting to develop models for a "right-sized" Northern Vermont University. The committee has recommended moving to a year-round calendar and putting a focus on lifelong learning by tailoring education to help students with career goals and make programs quick and affordable. The committee is also recommending cutting four sports programs across the two NVU campuses and moving coaches to full-time to potentially boost athletic recruitment.

Academic recommendations include making classes more widely available among multiple campuses, a program transfer with Castleton University, and collaborating with the Community College of Vermont when possible.

"We will be continuing to work to hone our niche. I think it's going to be very important that we can clearly differentiate ourselves in the marketplace moving forward. I think we have a definite start on that," said Elaine Collins, the president of NVU.

Next, Collins will present these recommendations to the VSCS Board of Trustees.

One of two reports to the Legislature this month on the economic health of the Vermont State Colleges System concluded that with enrollment declines and COVID-19 restrictions, the system is running upward of a $36 million deficit.

Before the pandemic hit, the VSC system was already looking at a nearly $10 million deficit this year alone. The report before lawmakers recommends allocating up to $40 million to fill the gap for next year if revenues are short. Some lawmakers are calling on the use of some of Vermont's $1.25 billion CARES Act funds to fill the hole.

Much of next year's financial picture for VSC remains unclear because they still don't know what attendance will look like in the fall and whether there will be a second wave of COVID-19.