By Dave Wolk, Castleton University President
There is a legendary and enduring section of sidewalk that runs parallel to Calvin Coolidge Library on the Castleton campus. Engraved in successive pavement stones are a series of names and dates: Rutland County Grammar School, 1787-1828; Vermont Classical High School, 1828-1830; Castleton Seminary, 1830-1876, State Normal School, 1867-1920; Castleton Normal School 1921-1947; Castleton State Teachers College, 1947-1962; and Castleton State College, since 1962.
In its more than 225-year history as an institution of higher learning, Castleton has experienced myriad challenges, defining moments, and transformations. Many of those moments were accompanied by a name change that reflected the changing reality and mission of the institution.
Such is the case for Castleton University, and on July 23, 2015 the Vermont State Colleges Board of Trustees unanimously approved modernizing Castleton’s name.
After more than a decade of unprecedented growth and improvements, Castleton is yet again at a crossroads, and once again the challenge to secure the institution’s future is critical. From 2002 through 2012 Castleton followed through on a 10-year master plan that resulted in the investment of over $75 million in infrastructure improvements on campus, with every current building or facility having been renovated or newly constructed, and is now at the capacity of its current Castleton footprint.
The fall of 2013 saw the inauguration of the Castleton Plan, a strategic plan and blueprint developed collaboratively over the course of more than a year, that envisioned the next ten years at Castleton. Highlighted by new and enhanced graduate programs, with a doctoral program under development, the plan also includes incremental enrollment growth, a focus on international enrollment, and increased opportunities for students in Rutland through entrepreneurial ventures such as the Castleton Downtown Gallery, the Castleton Polling Institute, and Castleton Downtown, which is home to the Center for Community Engagement, Center for Entrepreneurial Programs, and Center for Schools. All of these endeavors, along with the increased on-campus growth of conferences and events and the off-campus growth of the Spartan Arena and soon-to-be-installed Spartan Dome, are entrepreneurial efforts that serve the community but also ease the burden of tuition dollars which make up 90 percent of the yearly operating budget.
The Plan builds on this reinvigoration of the past 14 years, with well-planned incremental increases in undergraduate and graduate enrollment, staffing, programs and facilities, and with an eye toward a greater investment in and commitment to the Rutland area, including downtown Rutland as a destination for selected new programs for graduate students and upper level undergraduates that will further enhance the quality of a Castleton education while contributing to economic and community development in the greater Rutland region.
This reinvigoration, the growth of graduate programs, the new international focus, the development of off-campus venues and the Castleton Plan make this 53rd year as Castleton State College the right time to modernize our name to Castleton University.
Castleton recently has been operating more like a small university than a college, with increased research opportunities for faculty and students, a diversified portfolio of entrepreneurial ventures, enhanced and expanded opportunities in athletics and the arts, and increased recruitment efforts in both undergraduate and graduate admissions. Our staff and faculty are proud to work here, and our students and alumni are filled with that same “Spartan Pride.” Making the decision to modernize our name to Castleton University at this juncture confirms that Castleton is indeed on the move. The time is right. Castleton University is both inspirational and aspirational as we plan our future.
The Castleton Plan suggests a measured, incremental process of increased enrollment that seeks to raise admissions standards and increase retention rates, while expanding our recruitment efforts into each of the 50 states and all countries where we can develop sound recruitment opportunities. Most international students equate “college” with what is considered a high school in the United States, while “university” more closely equates to higher education in the U.S. By modernizing our name, we eliminate this common language barrier.
Additionally, the Plan goes on to say that Castleton will develop a number of exemplary graduate programs, including online and hybrid programs and courses—thereby establishing Castleton as a leader in graduate education and exerting a positive influence on the undergraduate experience. For many, graduate programs are equated with a university setting, which is likely to have a wide and varied array of offerings, campuses, and colleges. The current number of graduate programs already supports the name change, helping to sustain the enrollment of those offerings, and aid in the cultivation of more graduate degree opportunities in the future, including Castleton’s first doctoral program that will be underway in 2016.
Finally, the Plan calls for an increase in public and private funding. It is highly unlikely that significant additional funding will come from the State of Vermont. Moreover, there is a collective effort to restrain tuition increases, add scholarships, and focus on affordability.
Accordingly, tuition will be frozen at current levels for the 2016-17 academic year, and university status will not require greater than customary tuition charges.
As we continue to expand in areas of grant funding, entrepreneurial endeavors, and other areas of fundraising, it is apparent that a “Castleton University”designation will provide us with an advantage over the current name. This will also lead to greater institutional pride among alumni and friends, as well as a stronger desire among local and national businesses to become corporate partners.
This is a tremendously exciting time for Castleton and our future. Our vision moving forward is a testament to the remarkable progress of recent years. We are proud of what we have accomplished together in a way that embraces our rich history and enhances our cherished traditions. But we cannot stand still. Our future demands that we continue to be entrepreneurial and innovative in our approach to the growth of the institution.
It will take the collective creativity of a small university with a big heart to launch us into new frontiers that will capture the essence of what makes us special and unique, ensure our financial stability for the future, support our students with a very high quality education, and contribute to the cultural and economic well-being of Vermont.
It is time for Castleton University.