In fewer than two years, Johnson State College and Lyndon State College will join together as one school with two campuses. Talk of the unification plan has been circling around both campuses since the semester started.
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The news became official Thursday morning, when the Vermont State Colleges Board of Trustees unanimously voted to unify the two northern Vermont state colleges into one accredited school.
Between campus informational meetings and school-wide emails on the topic, students say they’ve had many opportunities to learn about the plan.
And Chancellor Jeb Spaulding says students will continue to have a voice throughout the process.
“It was important for us to make the decision today that we are going to have the courage to choose to be strong, not just keep our heads above water," he said after the vote on Thursday. "And then allow President [Elaine] Collins to establish her leadership team and start working with students, faculty, administrators, alumni and others to make sure that we have all the pieces in place to have a successful unification.”
Reactions from Johnson and Lyndon students coalesce around a few themes. Many students say they enjoy the sports rivalry between the two schools, and hope that won’t be impacted.
Demitra Potter is a junior at Lyndon State, from Starksboro.
“I chose Lyndon for its location," she says. "I chose Lyndon for the courses that were offered and the majors that were offered. And I feel it kind of takes away from what we can offer as a school if we put both names on it.”
Potter isn’t thrilled with the unification plan, but says she trusts the administration.
“We chose to come here because it was Lyndon," she says. "And a lot of us had to choose between Lyndon and Johnson. So it feels a little bit like a slap in the face that they chose to put them together. I think a lot of students are worried about, you know, the sports teams and how are we going to keep our individuality. But I think the administration kind of knows what’s best.”
Matt Laclair, a Lyndon State College junior from Beekmantown, New York, has similar thoughts on the matter.
“One of the biggest things is that they’re trying to keep the two different schools’ different identities, and let them have their each own personality," he says. "And so, with that in mind, I don’t think it’s a bad idea at all.”
Chancellor Spaulding says that the two campuses will keep their own sports teams, and their own mascots, even though the two campuses will eventually go by one name, which has yet to be determined.
“We have conferred and have written confirmation from the NCAA that each of the campuses can maintain their mascot and maintain their separate NCAA Division III teams, so they compete with each other and other colleges right now. And they will continue to do that in the future," he says.
Johnson State senior Shayna Bennett, from Belvidere, says she’s not too concerned about the change, since she’ll be graduating in May. But, she says, she’s happy her diploma will say "Johnson State College." She says she thinks the transition will be toughest on this year’s freshmen.
“I think it’s probably going to hardest for the students who are just coming in now and who have entered knowing Johnson and then will leave knowing something else," says Bennett. "So I’m sure that will be the hardest.”
Some students say they're looking forward to more class offerings and the ability to choose between more professors. William Dudley is a Johnson State College junior from Jeffersonville. He says he likes the idea of being able to take a wider range of classes, but he’s not sure how students will get between the two campuses.
“It would be helpful," says Dudley. "But the distance, and how they’re going to get to it, is going to be an interesting way of how that’s going to happen.”
Chancellor Spaulding says transportation is one of the details that will be worked out over the transition.
“Change won’t happen in large chunks overnight," he says, "but over time you will see new curricular offerings, less low-enrolled classes being canceled, the educational experience enhanced and the same thing happening with extra-curricular and student support services.”
Tyler Labounty is a sophomore at Lyndon from Lancaster, New Hampshire. Many students share his thoughts on the unification: “Either way, I get an education. It doesn't really matter.”