During the last five years, tuition and fee costs at public universities and colleges have risen at a more rapid pace than household income throughout New England, and in Vermont, these costs make up a larger portion of income than they do in any other New England state.
A New England Board of Education (NEBHE) study, released in February, examines tuition growth at public colleges and universities across New England, and it compares that growth to changes in median household income.
Monnica Chan, policy director at NEBHE and author of the study, observes, “average tuition and fee rates across the region still rose substantially over the past five years at two- and four-year institutions. Median household income, however, stagnated during this time, resulting in larger shares of income being required to pay full tuition and fee rates than previous years.”
For Vermont’s in-state students, the cost of tuition and fees for one year at a four-year school represents 21 percent of the median household income. At a two-year college, these costs represent 10 percent. That’s roughly a four percent increase since 2007.
In New England, the average proportion of tuition to income is 15 percent for four-year institutions and 7 percent for two-year institutions.
Since 2007, Vermont’s public four-year institutions also saw the highest average increase in out-of-state tuition and fee rates among all New England states. The state saw an average increase of 33 percent, whereas the New England average was 27 percent.
Vermont’s in-state rate increase was more modest — it went up 33 percent, while the average increase across New England was 37 percent. The average in-state tuition and fee rate for the 2012-13 school year was $11,380 in Vermont, whereas the national average was only $8,056.
Over the last five years, Vermont has stayed in the middle of the pack in terms of tuition increases at its two-year institutions. Both in-state and out-of-state rates have increased by 24 percent since 2007. But during the 2012-13 school year, Vermont had the highest in-state tuition rate increase for two-year institutions and the second highest (to New Hampshire) for four-year institutions in New England.
“We are providing a high quality product but we really need the state to be a partner in ensuring that it is broadly accessible to Vermont students.”
Daniel Smith, VSC communications director
UVM and Vermont State Colleges (VSC) officials are quick to point out that the study does not take into account financial aid or scholarship packages, which can mitigate cost hikes for qualifying students.
Daniel Smith, communications director for VSC, said that during the same five-year period the study looks at, “our overall gift and grant aid capacity has gone up 47 percent from $26 million in 2007-2008 to $39 million in 2011-2012.” This includes both federal financial aid and scholarships and grants provided by the colleges themselves.
Net tuition at the Vermont State Colleges has grown despite this, Smith explains, because total student enrollment has risen as well, which means financial aid dollars are split among a larger number of students. Enrollment has grown by about 10 percent since 2007, according to Smith. Vermont State Colleges includes Lyndon, Castleton and Johnson state colleges, Vermont Technical College and Community College of Vermont.
Smith says public higher education institutions are subject to the same trends — most notably, rising health-care costs — that are driving up costs “in just about every institution in the country.” The “chief difference,” Smith says, is that the state appropriations to public colleges are more meager in Vermont than they are in most other states.
“We are providing a high quality product but we really need the state to be a partner in ensuring that it is broadly accessible to Vermont students,” Smith said.
Richard Cate, vice president for finance at UVM, described tuition rate setting as “a balancing act between the increased costs of operating the institution and a market analysis in terms of price sensitivity. You’re trying to figure out how to provide good educational value for students without increasing the price to the point it becomes unaffordable for them.”
Due to its small state appropriation, UVM is “extraordinarily reliant” on tuition as a source of revenue, Cate said. According to Cate, financial aid is driving up tuition costs at UVM, and almost all of the money garnered from the 2.9 percent tuition increase forecast for next year will go towards meeting this need. “The increase is going to generate almost no new net revenue.”
Financial aid packages at UVM are “generally quite generous,” according to Cate, but, he added, it’s hard to draw comparisons across institutions because schools are often loath to disclose this information. Salary increases and health-care costs are also driving up the cost of tuition, though Cate says UVM has worked hard to keep the former in check during the last several years.
UVM and CCV have kept tuition hikes for in-state and out-of-state students comparatively lower than the other Vermont State Colleges — since 2007, UVM’s in-state tuition has risen 27 percent and CCV tuition increased 24 percent, whereas tuition rates at the other Vermont State Colleges have increased between 34 and 36 percent points.