- The new institution that will combine three of Vermont's public colleges will be named Vermont State University, the system's governing board unanimously voted Wednesday. The change will start in July 2023.
- The Vermont State Colleges System is carrying out a plan that will combine Vermont Technical College, Castleton University and Northern Vermont University. The move is meant to help the struggling system regain its financial footing by sharing branding and administrative services.
- The new name drew mixed feedback from students, alumni and college employees during the board meeting. Some proponents heralded it as a path forward for the institutions, while critics said the plan was rushed and didn't have enough input from key stakeholders.
In February, the system's board of trustees endorsed the plan to merge the three residential colleges by the 2023-24 academic year.
The consolidation is meant to help counter the system's longstanding budgetary issues and challenging demographic trends. A December report noted that although the coronavirus pandemic did not create the issues, "it surely has worsened them."
State lawmakers gave the system a combined $41 million in one-time funding to address its operating deficit and support its transformation over the next four years. They also added $5 million to increase its annual state appropriation.
"It's critical that our transformation be successful in bringing together the three institutions to create a new university and the consolidation of services systemwide," Chancellor Sophie Zdatny said during the meeting. "We need to do it in order for the system to continue to receive the increased state financial support that it needs to maintain its current campus locations and to deliver affordable and accessible education."
Selecting the name for the combined institution was one of the first major steps in carrying out the merger, Zdatny said. She voiced support for the name, saying its "simplicity and clarity" offers the ability to create subbrands for the individual universities by adding their locations to the new moniker.
The merger is one of several recent examples of public higher education institutions consolidating amid enrollment and budgetary concerns. The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education is undertaking a similar endeavor by combining six of its colleges into two new schools focusing, respectively, on online education and stackable credentials.
While system officials often cast these moves as necessary for public colleges to survive changing demographics and wavering state support, they often draw the ire of students and employees who want to preserve the identities and autonomy of their home institutions.
Several people speaking during public comment at Wednesday's Vermont board meeting suggested the system should keep the colleges' unique branding or slow down the process of selecting a name.
"We could still carry out a silent merger of the administration, program and course catalogs without the pain and controversy that the potential loss of identity is causing," said Andre Fleche, a history professor at Castleton University.
But others said it provided a way for the campuses to be more united.
"This new institution should be a unifying moment for Vermont's public colleges, and hopefully not a divisive one," said Aaron Preston, an atmospheric sciences professor at Northern Vermont University.