Vermont State Colleges System chancellor to resign in December

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Dive Brief:

  • Vermont State Colleges System’s chancellor, Sophie Zdatny, will resign at the end of the year following a three-year tenure marked by the pandemic and financial challenges.
  • Zdatny first led the system as interim chancellor after her predecessor Jeb Spaulding abruptly resigned in April 2020. Under Zdatny’s leadership, the system saw a significant increase in state funding, and formed Vermont State University through a merger of three financially struggling colleges.
  • The system’s board will begin the search for a new system leader in the next few months. Zdatny said she intends to work with her successor to ensure a smooth transition.

Dive Insight:

Zdatny has steered the Vermont State Colleges System through a turbulent period over the last three years.

In July, three of its institutions — Castleton University, Northern Vermont University and Vermont Technical College — merged to form Vermont State University. The institution welcomed its first class of 1,400-plus students this fall, hitting its enrollment targets and finalizing a process that took most of Zdatny’s tenure. 

The system’s trustees endorsed the consolidation plan in early 2021 as a means of stabilizing the original colleges’ finances. Enrollment and budget deficit challenges had plagued the institutions.

Zdatny’s predecessor, Spaulding, had originally proposed closing some system institutions, including Northern Vermont. The backlash against the idea was so strong that it led to his resignation.

The formation of Vermont State also came with a significant tuition reset, decreasing the average in-state sticker price at the three merging institutions by 15% to $9,999. However, a proposal to make the new university’s libraries “all-digital,” arguably overshadowed the official launch.

Vermont State scaled back the library plan in March after significant public outcry. University leadership paused it altogether, shortly after its driving force, President Parwinder Grewal, abruptly resigned in April.

Vermont State Colleges has yet to replace Grewal and now must do the same for Zdatny. 

Lynn Dickinson, chair of the system’s board, called Zdatny’s forthcoming departure bittersweet.

“Three years ago, the system was in a very challenging position,” Dickinson said in a statement. “Under Zdatny’s leadership, the system first stabilized, then developed and implemented a strategic plan for the transformation of the colleges.”

Under Zdatny, state funding for the system increased by 57%, according to Dickinson, who also serves as a Vermont state representative. The result — totaling over $300 million of state support since 2020 — allowed the system to complete the Vermont State merger, fund campus development and support student scholarships and workforce initiatives. 

Zdatny praised her colleagues in her resignation announcement Monday.

“I am incredibly proud of the work we’ve undertaken together to stabilize the Vermont State Colleges and to set it on the path of transformation to ensure public higher education remains accessible and affordable in Vermont’s rural communities for generations to come,” she said in a statement.


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