Donovan retires from Vermont State Colleges

Timothy J. Donovan, chancellor of the Vermont State Colleges system since 2009, will retire at the end of this year. The State Colleges board, at its meeting yesterday (May 22) approved his request to leave six months before his current contract would have normally expired.

The 63-year-old Mr. Donovan said he was retiring for personal reasons that he did not wish to discuss. He has steered the state colleges through turbulent times during his tenure. Among them: the great recession that has made it more difficult for more Vermonters to afford a higher education, and a worrisome decline in the number of Vermont high-school graduates that shows no signs of abating. More than 80 per cent of state-college students are from Vermont.

“These are very good colleges,” Donovan said, “better than Vermont should expect given its meager investment.” He regularly points out that in 1980, the state provided half the cost of running the colleges, and student tuition only the remaining half. Today, the state pays for less than 20 per cent of the cost, leaving the colleges to try to juggle increases in student fees with their avowed aim of providing an affordable education.

Donovan has spent 38 years in the Vermont state-college system. Before his five years as chancellor, he was president of the Community College of Vermont for eight years.

Said board vice chair Tim Jerman: “There is now a generation of Vermonters who have benefitted from Tim’s leadership. … This is a sad announcement.”

In other actions at yesterday’s meeting, the board of trustees approved a $2.5-million loan to Vermont Technical College to help it get its finances in order. It was the second such loan to VTC from the board.

An identical $2.5-million loan a year ago was intended to bail out the college, but a slowdown in enrollment and costs that exceeded its budget have led to an expected $2.5-million deficit in the current year, using up the entire proceeds of that loan. VTC ran smaller but growing deficits in the previous two fiscal years.

Under fire for the spreading red ink, the college’s president, Philip Conroy, agreed to go on leave in April until he retires in November. Dan Smith, now the interim president, says the college can turn around the deficit, but that it will take several years to do so.

The board also approved a systemwide budget for the 2015 fiscal year that shows more belt-tightening. Vermont Tech and Johnson State College both expect fewer students next year and have announced layoffs, as well as other austerity measures. Other institutions in the system are anticipating generally “flat” enrollment next year.

In addition to Vermont Tech, Johnson State, and the Community College of Vermont, the other colleges in the system are Lyndon State and Castleton State, where yesterday’s board meeting was held.

The board of trustees also elected Martha O’Connor, chair of the state lottery commission and former chair of the state board of education, to be its next chair, starting in July. She will replace Gary W. Moore.


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Jack Crowl

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  • Bob Stannard

    Congrats Tim!!

  • victor ialeggio

    In any event, the new chancellor will still have the grossly inequitable distribution of higher education funding in the state staring him or her in the face: $43 million to UVM, and $24 million for the other five state colleges to divide up this past March.

    That is, 12,000 students at five regional institutions, most of whom are Vermont residents, many of whom are first-generation attending college, with 80% remaining in state after graduation.

    Contrast that with 11,500 undergrads at UVM, over 65% of whom are from out of state and leave the state soon after graduation. In other words, $43 million to support a little over 4,000 Vermont students, some of whom remain in the state after graduation.

    It still boggles the mind that the five regional colleges and the flagship university center are not part of single unit, as in NY, California, and just about every other state university system in the country.

    Of course, these remarks do not address the ugly fact that tuition at Vermont state colleges today represents 82% of the system’s revenue (the national average is 47%.) Compare today’s figures with those of 1980, when tuitions represented approximately 50% of the system’s revenue, with the other 50% coming from state appropriations — a true partnership and investment.

    [By the way, as H.876 (an education miscellany with much filler and little meat) was sliding around the statehouse earlier this spring, I hectored legislators with the prediction that once the 40% differential between in-state and out-of-state tuition had been breached, in-state tuition would slowly rise toward the low $20K’s as out-of-state slowly dropped below $30K, in an effort to bring out-of-state tuition more in line with the out-of-state tuitions of other state university systems. In other words, someone has realized that it will not be possible to pile the bulk of UVM expenses on the backs of out-of-staters forever. It is understood that those students represent an incredibly fickle and savvy clientele, one which will promptly take its business elsewhere if the difference between tuition at UVM and other state universities exceed a certain threshold, pretty lake and mountains notwithstanding. We’ll see.]

    • Kevin McGrath

      I agree, the state should work toward creating a Vermont State University system. The problem is the legislature has no vision for the future of higher education in Vermont and the legislature at large lacks the creative and critical skills needed to make it a reality. We new blood in state government that will serve the higher educational needs of all Vermonters, until that happens the higher educational needs of the average Vermonter will never be adequately served.

  • Hale Irwin

    Best wishes Tim …..