CASTLETON—Castleton University announced Friday, Feb. 23, that as part of a comprehensive response to a projected operating loss of $1.5 million for the current year, it will restructure its current workforce through a combination of layoffs, position eliminations, and early retirements. The restructuring will also enable the University to minimize a projected shortfall for the fiscal year 2019 and place it in a more sustainable position for future growth.
Castleton has traditionally served Vermonters who seamlessly enroll right out of high school. Like many colleges and universities nationwide, Castleton is faced with a lower number of graduating high school seniors and increased competition for in-state and local out-of-state students. Many institutions similar to Castleton have recently gone through, or are engaged in, similar restructuring and right-sizing.
“We will direct our resources toward student success and those initiatives that directly impact our students,” said President Karen M. Scolforo. “We will not pass along the burden of external forces to our students. It is a difficult process to undertake, but this restructuring is necessary if we are to maintain affordability, without affecting the student experience. While the university’s previous efforts to maintain staffing levels despite enrollment declines were admirable, they are no longer sustainable. We are facing reality head-on, together, and making these decisions in service to our students.”
While Castleton traditionally relied heavily upon students from Vermont and its surrounding counties and states in growing from 1,200 to more than 2,000 students from 2001-2014, the university has seen its enrollment decrease in recent years to around 1,800 full-time undergraduates.
According to Scolforo and other industry experts, the down ward trends in traditional college-aged students nationally are expected to continue through at least 2029, some estimate by as much as 19 percent. “We need to position ourselves with that in mind to be able to maximize our resources, to maintain affordability, and to continue to be an economic engine for the region and beyond.”
Even amidst what will amount to close to a 10 percent reduction in the university’s operating budget there is cause for optimism, thanks to Castleton’s strong foundation as an affordable liberal arts university with a focus on career preparation.
“I am committed to transparency and collaboration,” Scolforo said. “I’ve met with all employee groups, informed them of our current circumstances and requested their partnership and support. I expect that we will spend the duration of this semester considering multiple options before making any final decisions.
“We’ve convened three faculty task forces to explore new program development; assess, consolidate, and strengthen current programs; and identify innovative delivery models to serve a broad range of students. It is imperative that the faculty lead this effort so that we maintain the integrity and quality of our academic experience.”
As a member of the Vermont State Colleges System (VSCS), Castleton has been a partner in the initiatives to consolidate university functions at the system level as Chancellor Jeb Spaulding has taken actions to help secure the future of the state’s public higher education system.
“Responsible leaders must have the courage to make budgetary adjustments, often painful ones, to position their colleges and universities for long-term success,” Spaulding said. “President Scolforo will ensure a bright future because she has the courage to make necessary adjustments to meet today’s realities.”
According to Scolforo, Castleton University is well-positioned for growth and will develop new experiential learning opportunities, cooperative education, distance education, and online and hybrid learning models.
In addition, Castleton will expand its more than 400 community partnerships, and explore customized curricula to better serve the community, and contribute to workforce development in new and exciting ways. Castleton University faculty are laying the groundwork for further expansion in these areas, including the recent announcement of an innovative new “Content Lab” aimed at getting students into the communication workforce while still pursuing their degrees. “Students will engage with real clients and meet a real need,” Scolforo said, “That’s the perfect marriage of the liberal arts and practical experience.”
While additional programs, new delivery models, and an increase in experiential learning opportunities will help to better serve Castleton students and potentially increase enrollment, it is also imperative that the university seeks alternative sources of funding to avoid being so reliant upon its traditional sources of tuition. Castleton recently announced a reduced, single rate for graduate tuition regardless of residency or delivery model. This in an effort to broaden the number of students it can serve. Additionally, the university will seek to increase its opportunities for grant funding, its overall fundraising efforts, and its recruitment of international and non-regional students.
“I’m very confident in the future of the university. I continue to be impressed by the contributions of our alumni, our students, and our faculty and staff who want to help find solutions to the challenges we face,” Scolforo said. “Our future is bright because of our shared focus on the success of our students and it is going to require all of us, arms linked, marching forward together.”