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With A University In The Mix, Vermont State Colleges Consider A Name Change

Hilary Niles for VPR
Vermont State Colleges, which now include Castleton University, are contemplating a new name. Vermont Technical College senior Craig Shaffer is ambivalent about the potential change, while a faculty survey favored leaving the name alone.

“Vermont State Colleges” refers to the state's public institutions for higher education: the Community College of Vermont, Johnson and Lyndon State Colleges, and the newly renamed Castleton University. But, what’s in a name? The chancellor and trustees are finding out, as they consider re-naming the state college system.

Craig Shaffer is a senior in the landscape design program at Vermont Technical College in Randolph. He says students received an email recently from the president that had something to do with …

"The VS — or VCU? Is it VSU? Or — is it? Yeah." 

Exactly. The very name of the Vermont State College system, otherwise known as VSC, of which Vermont Tech is a part, was the subject of that email. 

After getting permission from the Legislature this past spring, the Vermont State Colleges are contemplating a major makeover: a new name. An online survey asking faculty, staff and students what they think of the idea comes just about three months after Castleton State College officially became Castleton University.

Chancellor Jeb Spaulding says the concept of changing the Vermont State College system’s name comes from three places.

"The name Vermont State Colleges doesn't reflect the interconnected cohesive system that we're evolving into." - Jeb Spaulding, VSC chancellor

"One is, the name Vermont State Colleges doesn’t reflect the interconnected cohesive system that we’re evolving into," Spaulding says. "Two ... it may not have the positive brand feel to it that reflects, you know, the quality product we have. And three, does it make sense to have Vermont State Colleges as your corporate name when you have a university that’s part of the system?" 

Spaulding says the Castleton “University” issue alone doesn’t justify a potential name change. But along with that system-wide focus, and wanting to improve the schools’ reputations, he’s wondering if a name like “Vermont Higher Education System” might be in order.

That particular switch might not sit well with Linda Olson, former president of the VSC faculty union, who teaches at what is now Castleton University. She’s not necessarily opposed to the idea of a name change, but Olson feels strongly about keeping the word “state” in the mix. Without it, she says, it seems like the system is no longer prioritizing Vermont residents.

"I don’t want to see the Vermont State Colleges turn into something where they’re trying to recruit more out-of-state students to account for the fact that we get very little state funding," she said. 

"I don't want to see the Vermont State Colleges turn into something where they're trying to recruit more out-of-state students to account for the fact that we get very little state funding." - Linda Olson, Castleton University professor and former VSC faculty union president

Student Craig Shaffer is also more concerned with the schools’ resources than brand.

"I think it’s just kind of a bunch of bureaucratic bull crap, honestly. I don’t know why we need to change the name of it," Shaffer said. "It sounds like somebody’s getting bored in an office somewhere and decided they need to change the name. Otherwise, it doesn’t make any difference to me as a student here. As long as I’m getting the same education I don’t really care what the name of it is.” 

Spaulding says no one’s mind is made up yet about what to change the name to, or even whether to change it at all. The faculty survey favored leaving the name alone, according to the Barre-Montpelier Times Argus, and the student survey ends this Friday. 

Spaulding says the full survey results will be presented to the board of trustees at their December meeting, where they’ll decide whether a name change is warranted and, if so, what Vermont State Colleges will become.

Hilary is an independent investigative reporter, data journalism consultant and researcher based in Montpelier. She specializes in telling stories of how public policy shapes people's daily lives.
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