LYNDON CENTER — A group of community members intend to raise major concerns at a meeting tomorrow with Vermont State Colleges (VSC) Chancellor Jeb Spaulding at Northern Vermont University-Lyndon.
A local letter penned by concerned Lyndonville residents and business owners is circulating, urging tough questions be brought to bear at the meeting.
Spaulding and the VSC Board of Trustees are traveling to the colleges and universities in the public higher education system this week to speak about Spaulding’s white paper issued in late June, titled “Serving Vermont’s Students by Securing the Future of the Vermont State Colleges System.”
“This initiative is intended to allow our Board of Trustees to consider bold actions that the Vermont State Colleges System can take to secure its mission in an increasingly challenging and rapidly changing higher education environment,” states an email from Spaulding.
Over the summer, meetings have been held about the white paper which describes “the daunting challenges facing higher education and the VSCS, in particular,” stated Spaulding. The VSC Long Range Planning Committee has recently approved a final draft of the report.
On Thursday, the outreach meeting will be held at Northern Vermont University-Lyndon, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., in the Moore Community Room - ASAC 100. The meeting is open to the public.
Spaulding, reached on Tuesday, stated, “I can understand why our discussions as a system about building a strong future for our colleges might cause worry, especially in light of the serious challenges faced by higher education in Vermont or most of rural America.”
“I would like to assure staff, faculty and community members that neither I nor the Board of Trustees have made any decisions,” stressed Spaulding, in response to the letter being circulated in Lyndonville. “We understand the value of all colleges in the VSCS, as well as the need to have the courage to make tough decisions to ensure our future.”
Local business owners and community members plan to attend the meeting Thursday to express concerns about what they hear is happening at the campus, and fears over its stability - including VSC possibly making NVU-Lyndon an online-only program.
On Monday, Kim Crady-Smith, a 1995 alum of the former Lyndon State College (which unified into Northern Vermont University on July 1, 2018 with Johnson State College) began emailing a 3+ page letter outlining concerns she and other business owners and community members have. She said the other people who helped pen the letter do not wish to be identified.
Crady-Smith is the owner of the Lyndonville-based Green Mountain Books & Prints and a partner at The Grindstone Cafe’, and has been active in efforts to revitalize downtown Lyndonville and keep it a vibrant welcoming mat for NVU-Lyndon families.
The letter begins, “As community members and business owners in the greater Lyndon area, we were nervous regarding the unification of Johnson State College and Lyndon State College. We wanted to see our school retain its unique programs, contribute to our local economy, and preserve Lyndon pride that we are accustomed to claiming.”
“We were reassured that this would be an improvement - student opportunities would increase, attracting and maintaining new students would also increase. We began revitalization efforts for the downtown Lyndonville area concurrently – ensuring that when new students and their families come to visit our new NVU, they would feel welcomed and notice what makes our community so distinctive,” the letter states.
Instead, the letter continues, ” … we have witnessed much that is alarming to us.”
The letter asks, “At what point do we, as citizens and community members of Vermont, determine that the current Chancellor has been ineffective at securing the necessary and appropriate funding for the public good of our state?”
“This inability to do so has resulted in the forced merger of two institutions with little to no due diligence in planning and no subsequent evaluation of said merger. … Now, two years into this merger, the Chancellor and the Board of Trustees openly muse about closing NVU-Lyndon due to what they perceive as a financial crisis.”
The letter ends stating, “We are betting the farm on Jeb’s desire to turn the VSC into Southern New Hampshire University.”
Crady-Smith said Tuesday she and others are getting the word out about Spaulding being on campus Thursday because, “Really I just think the community should have an understanding of the way the wind is blowing and a voice in the decisions being made.”
The letter outlining concerns and questions lists a number of program consolidations and moves to support non brick and mortar education, such as NVU Online.
The letter notes that at a meeting this summer, it was learned that “ … a member of the Board of Trustees suggested closing down NVU Lyndon and turning it into an online school. This would result in more loss of local jobs, the outsourcing of more local labor, and would negatively impact the surrounding and greater community of Lyndonville.”
VSC Chancellor’s Report
In Spaulding’s white paper, he noted, “Declining numbers of traditional college-age students and increased competition among colleges for those students are pressuring budgets. Student preferences and attitudes towards higher education are changing. Our traditional physical infrastructure and personnel processes do not always support timely responses to challenges.”
“Vermont’s ranking at the bottom of the nation in state support is a significant factor in our inability to compete on price, to innovate, and to keep up with basic infrastructure.”
The paper noted that the 200-acre campus in Lyndon, founded in 1911, with 27 buildings, and 496,010 square feet, is sitting on nearly $9 million in deferred maintenance and is facing significant challenges - as are the other VSC colleges, and colleges in New England generally - to attract and keep students, and to keep costs down.
Spaulding’s report highlighted this section, calling it a bottom line conclusion: “The days when our colleges could rely on increasing enrollment, tuition, and fees are over. New technologies and competitors will continue to split up the declining customer base of traditional college students. Increasingly, the delivery of education beyond high school for all learners, inclusive of post-traditional students, will involve bringing education to the people, not bringing people to the institution.”