Andre M. Fleche: Castleton has a role in Vt.'s educational future

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During an uncertain time for the Vermont State College System, the people of Vermont should have confidence that Castleton University remains well-positioned to continue to serve the social and economic good of the state.

Each year, Castleton sends forth new nurses, teachers, social workers, journalists, entrepreneurs, and many other graduates who go on to live and work in Vermont's communities. CU carries out its mission according to the "Castleton Way," which emphasizes the transformative power of caring personal relationships. Castleton's approach affords the state's students invaluable opportunities to work in laboratories alongside faculty in healthcare and the natural sciences; to learn research directly from experts in the social sciences and the humanities; to develop professional skills under the guidance of caring mentors in business, communication, social services, education, and athletics; to create and perform with the close support of accomplished artists, actors, and musicians; and to compete at the highest echelons of NCAA Division III sports.

Castleton University enjoys a track record of success in its endeavors. During a time of decreasing college enrollments in the region, Castleton's student body has actually grown.

Castleton's students enjoy modern, well-cared-for facilities. The campus hosts camps and athletic events for Vermonters of all ages, and in the past weeks, the University's Spartan Arena has been converted into an emergency pandemic overflow site through partnership with the Rutland Regional Medical Center.

This does not mean Castleton has avoided the challenges facing higher education, and the COVID-19 crisis has raised new and unprecedented ones. For a number of years, Castleton has been doing more with less. State funding makes up only a small percentage of Castleton's budget. In 2018, shortfalls forced the University community to endure painful layoffs. Through dedication to responsible fiscal management, Castleton's leadership team tamed these deficits and began to replenish reserves before incurring COVID-19-related costs.

The University's faculty and staff also realize the need to seek outside sources of funding. Their efforts have secured approximately $8 million in grants in this fiscal year alone. Over the past seven years, the members of the Natural Sciences faculty have raised more than $1.5 million in outside research support, and the federal government has chosen to invest in Castleton with very prestigious grants, including a McNair Scholars Grant, which prepares students in underrepresented groups for graduate school, and a $2.25 million Title III Grant, which funds student retention efforts.

Castleton University's innovators have also pioneered new ways of delivering higher education. In the past year, faculty and staff have developed unique partnerships with employers at Southwestern Vermont Healthcare in Bennington and the Killington Mountain Resort, where Hospitality Management students live and work while earning their degree. The University also continues to launch new online programs in high-demand fields, including a Masters of Business Administration and a proposed associate's degree in Speech Language Pathology. Castleton's Psychology Department recently crafted an accelerated baccalaureate program, and the university has become an important dual-enrollment destination for local high school seniors.

In short, Castleton University occupies an invaluable place in Vermont's educational landscape. The creative minds at CU are already boldly reimagining the future of higher education in the state. The people of Vermont should feel certain that continued investment in Castleton will result in further growth.

Andre M. Fleche is a professor of history and president of the Faculty Assembly at Castleton University.

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