University of Vermont

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Budget, Student Housing, Internationalization Headline February Board Meeting

Board of Trustees
From left, Robert Low, interim provost, Tom Sullivan, president, and Rob Cioffi, board chair. (Photo: Sally McCay)

At its February meeting, the UVM Board of Trustees engaged in a realistic discussion about budget challenges, heard a comprehensive plan for how on-campus student housing could be transformed and learned of important progress the university has made in achieving its ambitious internationalization goals.   

UVM faces a period of fiscal challenge for at least the next two years, President Tom Sullivan told trustees, which the university must address if it is to survive and thrive in the competitive and evolving higher education marketplace. 

The budget challenges are driven by a series of factors. To promote access and affordability, one of the president’s key strategic goals, the university will restrain tuition increases (this year’s plan calls for rise of no more than 2.9 percent) and maximize scholarships and financial aid. To enhance academic quality, another major goal, the university will limit undergraduate enrollment to 9,800 from a high of 10,500 in 2011.  A smaller undergraduate student body will reduce class sizes and improve student-faculty ratios.   

UVM will need to cut about $5 million from its budget this year due to inflationary pressures and a lower projected recovery of financial and administrative costs from grants, said Richard Cate, vice president for finance and administration.

To make certain that academic quality doesn’t suffer, academic units will be less impacted than administrative ones.

“We simply have to do that to protect the academic core,” Sullivan said. “Over time (the restructuring) will help us achieve our strategic goals, which will help us move through this time of economic shortfalls,” he said. “It will get easier as things smooth out in (FY) ‘16/’17.”

Without investing in academic quality -- in students, faculty and infrastructure – “UVM won’t be the university you know it as, or the one you attended,” Sullivan told trustees. 

Housing vision

Trustees also learned of an extensive draft housing master plan for the university, created to take the place of an earlier plan, developed in 2001, which has been fully implemented.Tom Gustafson, vice president for university relations and campus life, explained how the plan could go forward despite a challenging financial climate.

“The plan does not include a financial model; that needs to be done later,” he said. “It assumes all new construction would be done through a private developer,” with UVM bearing little of the cost, an arrangement that is common at other schools.

One of the key questions asked by the consultants who developed the plan -- Biddison Hier of Washington, D.C. and KSQ Architects of New York – was whether to renovate or raze and replace existing residence halls on the UVM campus.

The recommendation was to replace buildings that were not only obsolete but in line for costly repair and whose design didn’t easily accommodate creative student programming. Four residence halls fit that description and would be demolished: the three buildings in the Chittenden Buckham Wills complex on central campus and Coolidge Hall on Redstone campus. New residence halls would be built on their footprints. All the other halls would undergo renovation.

The consultants also recommended taking a strategic approach to on-campus housing, creating communities of same-year students, who are in roughly similar developmental stages. On-campus residence halls currently house a 50-50 mix of first-year students and sophomores. The new strategy, the consultants said, would help improve retention, another of the president’s strategic goals.

The plan calls for central campus, with classrooms and services nearby, to become a community of first-year students, anchored by the new housing complex that would replace Chittenden Buckham Wills. The Redstone campus, already favored by returning students, would become a  community of sophomores, with a suite-style residence hall for second-year students replacing Coolidge.

In addition, the consultants recommended working with a third party to develop new housing for third- and fourth-year students in Burlington’s downtown core. The new buildings would include programming to keep students connected with the university and would free up housing for non-students in Burlington’s student neighborhoods, one of the city’s goals.

The plan calls for the Trinity campus to house graduate students, after some renovations to the housing facilities there.

The consultants also reintroduced an idea first proposed more than a decade ago in the Campus Master Plan: a walkway connecting and integrating all of UVM’s grounds, from the Trinity to the Redstone campuses. The landscaped Green Mountain Walkway would traverse the campus, creating student gathering places at new and existing eating and entertainment venues.   

International progress

In the Educational Policy and Institutional Resources committee, Chris Lucier, vice president for enrollment management, shared the important news that the university had a newly signed contract in hand with Study Group, a company that will provide international recruitment services and help build a strong brand abroad for UVM. With plans to enroll the first cohort of students in January 2014, Lucier said he expects to begin receiving applications by April 1.

Gayle Nunley, associate provost for academic affairs and internationalization, presented an overview of the pathway program students will enter, designed to prepare nonnative English speakers to successfully matriculate at UVM. Outlining the three major goals for a strong pathway, Nunley said the program would be designed to focus on English for academic purposes, acquaint students with the philosophy and expectations of higher education in the U.S. and prepare them for the unique culture of the institution/major they are entering.

Read more about the new internationalization partnership.

The Committee of the Whole also heard a presentation by the consulting firm Sightlines on the university’s building maintenance costs deferred maintenance backlog.

According to industry guidelines, UVM should be spending three percent annually of the $1.9 billion it would take to replace every building on campus. But by targeting buildings whose life cycles have come due or been exceeded, the consultant said, an annual investment of $25 million would be enough to keep the campus in relatively good shape, a figure not far off from what the university currently spends on regular and deferred maintenance combined. 

In other developments

Committee of the Whole

  • The board passed a resolution meeting naming 438 College Street, the administrative home of the College of Arts and Sciences, for one of UVM’s longest serving and most successful presidents, Lattie F. Coor. Trustees plan a formal dedication for the Lattie Coor House, as the building will be called, when the board reconvenes in May over Commencement Weekend. Coor served as UVM president from 1976 to 1989 and oversaw the university’s rise to prominence in American higher education, culminating in its inclusion in Richard Moll’s well regarded book of the time, The Public Ivies.
  • The following trustees, each of whom will complete their term of service at the end of the month, were recognized by the board: Harry Chen, vice chair, Donna Sweaney, secretary, Jeff Davis, Kyle DeVivo and Jeanette White. The processes for appointment and election of the incoming class of trustees will be concluded later this month. All terms begin on March 1.  Additionally, new university officers were elected: Debbie McAneny to vice chair and Joan Lenes to secretary. Current chair Rob Cioffi was nominated for re-election. In accordance with the university charter, the chair election will occur at the first meeting following the election of new trustees on March 11.

Budget, Finance and Investment Committee

  • Committee members engaged in a lengthy discussion about the university’s debt ratio policy, which states that it currently cannot exceed six percent. Discussion focused on whether to rescind a 2007 vote calling for the debt ratio to be lowered to five percent by 2017. The ratio is currently at 5.22 percent and would fall below five percent by 2017 if no additional debt were incurred. The university’s Strategic Action Plan and Capital Priorities Plan, however, call for new construction projects and renovations of old buildings that would be difficult to implement without retracting the 2007 vote, allowing for additional borrowing of up to $45 million.  The committee deferred taking action on the recommendation to the May meeting to allow time to engage in discussions with external debt advisors regarding the questions that arose at the meeting. 
  • Sam Bain, chair of the Investment Subcommittee, gave a brief update on the university’s long-term investment pool allocations and performance through Dec. 31, 2012. He informed committee members that the endowment had reached $354.3 million and that market value in the endowment is back to its pre-fall 2008 value. He reported that the endowment had increased more than 13 percent in calendar year 2012, exceeding benchmark goals.
  • An annual review of the university’s net assets showed a total of $175.5 million at the end of FY 2012. The cumulative balance of reserves of academic units is $23.2 million.

Education Policy and Institutional Resources Committee

  • In his report to the committee, interim Provost Robert Low discussed the establishment of a full academic summer session by 2015.
  • In an update on General Education, Associate Provost Brian Reed said the pilot program for the initial learning outcome in writing had been well received and would expand for the next academic year with the expectation that it would be implemented university-wide in four years. Reed noted that work on other outcomes has begun and that these should progress faster based on the time and care invested in the original model.
  • The committee heard a presentation on assessment of academic quality, focusing on how to best measure students’ critical thinking abilities. A research study sponsored by the Provost’s Office is currently underway to test a sampling of first-year students across five colleges. The goals are to understand what the know when they come in, to consider what pedagogy best supports learning critical thinking skills and then to compare results against an equivalent sample of seniors tested this spring. Substantial work has gone into finding the most effective exam design, though, as Reed noted, “The ultimate metric is the success of our alumni.”
  • Given that the nursing profession nationwide is raising its standards and that the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, the accrediting body for nursing, has mandated that existing master's of nursing practice programs be transitioned to doctoral programs by 2015, the faculty senate recommended -- and the board approved -- the creation of a doctorate of nursing practice degree and the creation of a master of science degree in clinical nurse leadership. Cathy Paris, faculty senate curricular affairs committee chair, noted that the doctoral program would be unique in northern New England.
  • The board approved a resolution terminating the Canadian studies major (at the request of the department). A Canadian studies minor is still being offered.      

View a PDF of the consent agenda, itemizing all action items approved by the board.