It was in February of 2018 when Castleton University announced efforts to resolve a budget deficit.
Now, over a year later, the university is in a much better situation.
After a strong trend of enrollment growth and a complete budget realignment led by President Karen Scolforo, Castleton appears to be on an upward path.
“We’re doing very well. We were able to balance the budget, and we are now experiencing three consecutive semesters of growth year over year, so that’s pretty exciting,” Scolforo said.
Scolforo initiated a plan to solve the budget issues, which included three faculty task forces.
The first task force focused on developing new programs that would be relevant in the state, region, nation and world. Castleton will be introducing five new programs, four bachelor’s degrees and one master’s degree.
These new programs, which were developed by faculty, include Wildlife and Forest Conservation, Resort and Hospitality Management, Early Childhood and Special Education, and a combined Archaeology, Geography, and Applied Anthropology program. The master’s program will be in Business Administration.
There will also be six or seven new certificate programs, such as the cannabis studies certificate and the social justice certificate.
Andre Fleche, the head of faculty at Castleton, is excited for these new programs.
“All of these things could bring in people that might not have considered Castleton before simply because there are programs that we’re offering that are meeting demands that we haven’t really met before,” he said.
According the Fleche, the new programs are mostly designed with classes that are already offered and current faculty can teach. He did mention that some new faculty hires could be considered.
The second task force looked at current programs to see how they could be reformed to be more efficient. Many programs were tweaked, and the task force ultimately prepared a 600-page report on how the current programs could be better.
Scolforo was particularly pleased with how well the faculty worked together to adjust the current programs.
“They wanted to make sure that the programs themselves encompassed cutting edge information that the students are really going to graduate with highly competitive academic experiences,” she said.
“The faculty were able to gain efficiencies through their scrutiny, and they were able to save about three quarters of a million dollars. So that’s a big part of it.”
The third task force developed new delivery models and new revenue sources beyond students and tuition.
Castleton offered a record number of courses over the summer through the Castleton Center for Schools, and they also were able to fill up campus with conferences and events over the summer, keeping campus busy year-round.
In addition to the three task forces, there were also new initiatives to bring in new students. Dean of Enrollment Maurice Ouimet talked about the different strategies that were used to focus on bringing in different groups of students.
“We’re looking at attracting students from the region just outside of the State of Vermont, because Vermont, as you know, has serious demographic challenges. There are a lot of Vermont students who still want to come here, but the number of eligible high school graduates is on the decline,” Ouimet said.
For example, Castleton University signed articulation agreements with many community colleges, including SUNY, to develop pathways to Castleton for those students, according to Scolforo.
In addition to out-of-state students, Castleton will also strive to help those students impacted by the closings of multiple area colleges. Ouimet stated that the Castleton University made teach-out agreements, which allow a more seamless transition for students from those colleges. They will have an easier application process if they wish to come here.
“Castleton is seen as a destination for many of those students for good reason, because they know that Castleton is doing really well,” he said.
Scolforo believes that we will bring in somewhere between 50-100 students from those colleges.
Another strategy developed to approach the budget deficit was an incentivized early-retirement program for Castleton faculty members who planned on retiring soon anyway. According to Scolforo, 17 people took advantage of that, which “really helped us close a good chunk of the gap,” she said.
She discussed how she will continue to develop initiatives to bring in new students, particularly focusing on non-traditional working adults and distance education such as online and hybrid programs.
And according to Ouimet, we can continue to see growth in the near future.
“We’re optimistic that we’re going to have a good fall. I’m fairly certain we’ll see enrollment growth, how much is to be determined,” he said.