It’s a familiar story, by now. A campus faces declining enrollment and reductions in state support. What’s different is its strategic response: to expand collaboration with nearby peers in order to survive.
That’s what’s happening with Vermont’s public colleges. There are five campuses in the Vermont State Colleges system: Castleton State College, Community College of Vermont, Johnson State College, Lyndon State College, and Vermont Technical College. The state has seen its K-12 population dwindle for years (“[e]nrollment in the VSC system… has dropped from 13,494 in the fall of 2010 to 12,305 in the fall of 2014”), and Montpelier hasn’t been interesting in maintaining or expanding its support. So now they’re partnering up to, well, survive.
This team-up seems to be in early, brainstorming days so far. You can read some interesting ideas in the article, like more closely linking the community college to the bachelor’s-granting colleges, and learning from more tightly knit state systems, like those in Pennsylvania and California.
One of the biggest obstacles to inter-institutional collaboration in higher education is that these campuses see themselves primarily as competitors with each other. At best they can become frenemies. So I was struck by this observation:
“You could have all five of the colleges continue to compete at a certain level, but I’m not convinced that all of them would continue to be sustainable for the next decade,” [Lyndon State College President Joe] Bertolino said.
Competition could destroy the competitors. Quite a thing for an institution’s leader to assert in public.
But such are our times, when queen sacrifices are in play on many tables, states look to cut even more, and we reach for technological solutions that might not pan out. It’s good to see Vermont exploring another strategy.