How Rival State Colleges Are Merging To Become Northern Vermont University

Sep 22, 2017

As high school seniors are working away on their college applications, administrators at Johnson State College and Lyndon State College are gearing up to select the first freshman class of Northern Vermont University.

This is the time of year when high school seniors are touring college campuses, talking to admissions counselors and getting lots of mail.

Over the past couple weeks, some have opened their mailbox to find a large red, white and blue flyer, with a compass-like arrow pointing upwards above the words "Do North."

The flyer is part of the first round of recruiting materials for Northern Vermont University. By this time next year, the two state colleges will have united under that name.

Elaine Collins, who was President of Johnson State College, now heads both campuses and will be at the helm of NVU. Speaking at her Lyndon office – she has an office and a residence on each campus – she says the transition is going well so far.
"Right now it seems like we are very much on track," she says. "We have maps all over the place. We’re on very strong and aggressive timelines, but we have been meeting them and, as long as things stay moving forward like they are now, we should be opening our doors as Northern Vermont University in July."

Students will apply to a specific campus, but can take classes in both places. The two campuses are about an hour's drive apart. Shuttle busses will move students between campuses and there will be technology in place for distance learning.

Collins says the change is an opportunity to review, at a micro level, the way each college works, then move forward with one mode of operation.

"What we’re trying to do is really identify best practices and to choose ... the best practice that is currently being used by one institution and not by the other, and unify it and move out with it," she says.

JSC Internships Coordinator Ellen Hill has been working with her colleague at Lyndon to identify best practices for their departments.
Credit Amy Kolb Noyes / VPR

Case in point are the colleges’ career and internship offices. Ellen Hill coordinates internships at Johnson State, and she says she met with her counterparts at Lyndon State College earlier this week:

"What we started to do is inventory what we offer – programs and services and activities – what we do well, how we can synthesize, enhance, eliminate and really kind of  create best practices to support our career development and our internship program," Hill says.

Theater Professor Isaac Eddy and his daughter Aria grab some lunch on the JSC campus. He says he's looking forward to the new opportunities NVU will offer.
Credit Amy Kolb Noyes / VPR

Isaac Eddy is a theater professor at Johnson. He says he’s looking forward to opportunities for his acting students to collaborate with Lyndon’s student filmmakers. He thinks it will be a win-win.

"We’re playing with house money," says Eddy. "I see it only as good potential. And I think we’re going to make a lot of discoveries as the years go on."

Corrie Aldrich is a technical theater major who just transferred to Johnson. She says she's excited about what her new school has to offer.
Credit Amy Kolb Noyes / VPR

Corrie Aldrich is one of Eddy’s students. She’s a junior from central New York, who transferred to Johnson this year.

"I’m not even from Vermont and I love the state itself," says Aldrich. "So I think I’m going to be really proud, as a graduate, to say I’m from Northern Vermont University."

JSC business major and basketball player Terrence Manning likes the idea of graduating from Northern Vermont University instead of Johnson State College.
Credit Amy Kolb Noyes / VPR

Terence Manning is a business major from Providence, Rhode Island, who plays basketball for Johnson. He says at first he and his teammates weren’t sure they wanted to join forces with their rivals on the court.

"When it first hit I didn’t know how to take it because it was just like, 'Alright we’re combining with one of our rival schools.' So as a basketball team we were like, 'Oh, do we have to play with them?'" he says.

But, overall, Manning says the merger could be a good thing:

"I don’t have to explain where I go to school now. Because I go back home and they’re like, ‘Where’s Johnson?’ And, it’s in northern Vermont. So, Northern Vermont University – that’s where I go."

Under the NVU umbrella, both campuses are going to maintain their NCAA sports teams, their team colors and their mascots. And they’ll still be matched up in competitions. As for club sports, the students will be able to choose whether they want to join forces.

Rugby player Sawyer Masure says combining his JSC Rugby Club with the Lyndon Rugby Club gives them strength in numbers.
Credit Amy Kolb Noyes / VPR

Johnson rugby player Sawyer Masure says that’s good news for his club, which has struggled for numbers in the past.

"That’s one of the things I’m excited about is now Northern Vermont is going to combine us and make us this rugby club that will actually show that rugby’s a big sport," he says.

Senior Demetrius Slade says he will exercise the option to have Northern Vermont University printed on his degree because the name commands more respect than Johnson State College.
Credit Amy Kolb Noyes / VPR

For a lot of students, including Washington, D.C., native Demetrius Slade, the change is less about their college experience, and more about the name. 

"But now when you say, ‘Yeah, I went to NVU.’ ‘NVU? What’s that stand for?' ‘Northern Vermont’ – when they hear that – ‘University!’ Oh, yeah. That sounds like a good school," he says. "It just sounds better to me."

President Collins says capitalizing on what she calls "the Vermont brand" is part of the new marketing strategy as well.