Linda Olson: Increase state support for public higher education

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Linda Olson, who is on the faculty at Castleton State College and is the current president of the Vermont State Colleges Faculty Federation Local 3180. She lives in Poultney.

Gary Moore, outgoing chair of the Vermont State Colleges (VSC) board of trustees, has spoken publicly about the need for more state support for the VSC. As a Castleton State College faculty member and as president of the VSC Faculty Federation, I would like to applaud him for this.

He also spoke about the discrepancy in funding for UVM and the VSC, that UVM gets a bigger portion of funding. While this is true, the real issue is the lack of state support for public higher education as a whole. UVM might get more, but none of us get much. Vermont is currently ranked 49th out of 50 for state support for higher education; only New Hampshire spends less. This results in higher tuition for our students, and lower than national average salaries for VSC employees.

As a first generation college student myself, I know the value of mentoring students to help them see college as a possibility, but to do this without supporting public higher education to make it affordable for our Vermont students is unacceptable.

 

This is not a new trend, there has been a steady decline in state support since 1980. At that time, 51 percent of revenue to support the VSC came from the state, now less than 20 percent does. This shift has presented a much more significant financial burden for Vermont students.

There has also been much discussion about the fact that Vermont has the highest rate of high school graduation of any state, but one of the lowest rates of students going on to college. I don’t think one can avoid the conclusion that state funding has something to do with this. K- 12 gets a lot of funding (as it should); higher education not so much.

The governor and the new secretary of education stress the need to support and mentor students so that they see college as a possibility. As a first generation college student myself, I know the value of mentoring students to help them see college as a possibility, but to do this without supporting public higher education to make it affordable for our Vermont students is unacceptable. I can’t tell you how many times over the years I have seen talented students from low-income families leave college because of the financial burden it represents for them and their families.

We should remember the value of public higher education in Vermont; it is worth the investment. Eighty-four percent of VSC graduates live and work in Vermont after graduation. They are the heart of our communities. They are our teachers, social workers, nurses, and small business owners. I can’t go anywhere without running into a former student who is living, working and raising his or her family right here in Vermont.

The state charter that established the VSC said that the state would support the VSC in “whole or substantial part.” It is time that the state live up to that promise. Sen. Anthony Pollina has proposed legislation to create a committee to design a plan to get the VSC back to the level of the state funding we had in 1980. Please contact your legislators and ask them to support that legislation: S.40.

Comments

  1. Walter Carpenter :

    ” but to do this without supporting public higher education to make it affordable for our Vermont students is unacceptable.”

    It’s crazy what we have to pay to be in debt for years or decades.

    • Lauren Norford :

      As a family with college age (and almost college age) kids, I think it is terrible that New York and Canadian schools are less expensive for out-of-state tuition than our own state schools are for in-state tuition!

      If we want our young people to remain in VT (since adult children frequently form connections and/or settle where they go to college) we have to address making college in Vermont affordable!!

  2. rosemarie jackowski :

    It has been reported that the president of UVM receives an annual salary of $447,000 plus a mansion to live in. If that report is accurate, there is already too much tax payer funding going to UVM.

    Any institute of higher learning that receives public money should cap all administrative salaries.

  3. Dave Bellini :

    It’s a zero sum game. Vermont spends an exorbitant amount of money, tax money, on K – 12 education. We have the smallest class size in the nation. The new push is to redefine daycare as actual education and spend education money on daycare. Is it any wonder there is so little left for higher education? K-12 schools in Vermont used to be academic institutions. They have since become social service agencies. This has driven up the costs also.
    .
    In the very near future Vermont is going to raise taxes for a new universal care healthcare system and all parents will soon have tax payer funded daycare.
    .
    With all of this happening there is no extra money for colleges. I would rather we spend less on K-12 and not provide free daycare and put more money into higher education.
    .
    You want more money? Have a school board for each college and talk about your special education needs.

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