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.