LYNDON CENTER — Getting more students into beds and classes at Northern Vermont University-Lyndon — and many colleges nationwide — has become increasingly competitive with declining birth rates and demographics, costs, and competitors, including online programs.
The pressures are increasing a very tense few months for the campuses of the Vermont State Colleges System, which include NVU at Lyndon and Johnson (formerly independent state colleges which were unified 14 months ago), the Vermont Technical College, Castleton University and the Community College of Vermont.
Although students arrived a few weeks ago and classes have been in full swing, the gate to let more new students in was kept open at NVU-Lyndon right through Friday, according to marketing and communications director Sylvia Plumb.
In the final race to fill beds and boost enrollment figures, NVU staff for both campuses have kept going after nearly 250 students who still were in limbo, and could possibly be reeled in and added to the bottom line.
More than ever the enrollment race is critical for the school. On Thursday, Vermont State Colleges Chancellor Jeb Spaulding, the board’s Chair Church Hindes and several other VSC representatives visited the Lyndon campus, where an overflow crowd expressed very real fears about their campus being on the chopping block.
The VSC Board will consider more than 200 ideas and possibilities, from small steps to major cuts to try to right-size the schools, which have seen declining enrollments and an increasingly challenging fiscal climate.
Closure of a VSC campus is on the table — and fears about which campus that may end up being by year’s end are palpable in Lyndon among faculty, staff and students — as well as the larger community, which fears the economic repercussions if the school were to shutter.
Rumors and fears about the campus becoming only a shadow of itself through the new NVU Online program were expressed repeatedly on Thursday.
At the request of the newspaper for public records this week, Plumb shared information on enrollment at the NVU-Lyndon campus for this year, last year, and looking back a decade, to 2009.
As of last Friday, Sept. 6, the total number of students enrolled at NVU-Lyndon’s brick and mortar campus was 901. This time last year the campus had 1,042 students, or 141 more.
On Oct. 15, 2009, a decade ago, Lyndon State College had 1,503 students enrolled — 602 students more than now.
In a decade, the NVU-Lyndon campus, long known as Lyndon State College, has shed 40 percent of its students.
NVU Dean of Enrollment and Marketing Mike Fox, who arrived to take the job a little more than a year ago, said “we’ve done a tremendous amount of work in the year since I have been here.”
The two departments service both campuses, as well as the online programs, and have been focused on building and broadcasting the Northern Vermont University brand — whose catch phrase is: Do North.
“For us, it’s a really exciting time,” Fox says. “We’ve accomplished a lot.”
He said the best of both schools are being distilled down to move forward with the strongest university program to present to families and students.
While the overall new starts are down this year by four percent over last year — overall enrollment at the Lyndon campus is down almost 14 percent, according to information obtained from the administrative team this week.
Fox emphasized that even amid another year of minus signs for enrollment, that there is high interest in NVU as a brand, that they are seeing “a turnaround in the number of applications and acceptances,” both in first year and transfer students, and that’s promising for the future.
Applications grew from 1,176 to 1,440 this year, said Fox, and the growth in the transfer pool, 4 percent, is positive, while modest, he said, “Growth is a good thing.”
The increasing trend line also continued for acceptances to NVU-Lyndon, said Fox, with 17 percent more students accepted this year. The school rejected 80 applicants.
“That was really intentional for us because we were trying to make sure that students met the academic rigor that they needed, that was a very large priority for me,” said Fox. “Ultimately that affects,” the deposits that came in and the enrollment tallies — the bottom line.
Deposits were down 18 percent.
The Final Push — Winter Hats
Facing plummeting numbers of Vermont students through demographic decline, NVU is working hard to bring in more students from out of state through programs which offer discounts to students from certain regions and for certain fields of study.
The competition for those students is getting fiercer every year.
And right through Friday this week, NVU’s staff was going after them — sending personalized letters, swag such as winter hats and other NVU branded freebies, trying hard to get more students to find their future here in Northern Vermont — to buy into the Do North campaign.
“We’re trying to connect them, once they’re connected, they’re excited,” said Fox.
On Thursday, Fox said, “At last check, there were 247 students still interested in coming for this semester.”
“We are sending out the gifting pieces,” he said, such as water bottles and more.
When a deposit comes in, a warm NVU winter hat is sent out.
State Senator, LSC Alum, Joe Benning Weighs In
Sen. Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, a Lyndon State College alum and local attorney, was at Thursday’s meeting at the university, with other legislators. In an email he sent to many legislators on Tuesday, he wrote, “As you may have heard the state college system is having severe financial difficulties. A few months ago a group of us here in Lyndon became aware of a white paper that had been prepared by Chancellor Jeb Spaulding. One of its implications was the possibility of closing what is now known as NVU-Lyndon, formerly Lyndon State.”
“I’ve met with Jeb twice now (and) have been told there are no immediate plans, only discussions, but a group of local leaders I’ve been meeting with would prefer to get ahead of this conversation and now wait for something to react to,” wrote Benning.
He wrote, “I’m sure we all agree that the college has been, and continues to be, a tremendous economic boon to the Kingdom, as well as an educational force for those locals with little other options.”
“Its loss would be quite traumatic,” Benning stated to his fellow legislators. He noted that NVU-Lyndon students this week had been “circulating an email chain which contends the school’s closure may be imminent, which probably will cause more noise than is necessary at this moment, but that’s the way it is.”
In urging his colleagues to attend Thursday’s meeting at NVU-Lyndon, Benning concluded, “This will be an important topic in the months to come and I hope we all stand united in preserving what we can.”