Vermont lags in state support for higher education but, hey, we’re not New Hampshire

Vermont is spending $931 less per student on higher education than it did five years ago. That’s nearly a 19 percent reduction. It’s less of a plunge than most other states took during the recession — the average decrease was 28 percent — but Vermont was at the back of the pack to begin with.

The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) compiled the numbers using Grapevine stats, which are put out annually by the Illinois State University and widely used for higher education finance research. CBPP’s report, released in March, can be found here.

The Grapevine data for 2013 shows Vermont is ranked 46th in higher education spending per $1,000 of personal income and state spending per capita.

Vermont looks like a spendthrift, however, compared to neighboring New Hampshire. One of the few states that ranked below Vermont in the first place, New Hampshire is one of two states that has cut its higher education spending in half since 2008.

The spending trend isn’t new — it’s been going on for at least that last 25 years, according to the CBPP.

Universities have filled in the gap left by state funding cuts by raising tuition rates. Seven states have seen tuition hikes of more than 50 percent during the same five-year period (2008-2013), and 18 states have seen an increase of more than 25 percent.

Tuition at Vermont’s public four-year colleges and universities has risen roughly 18 percent during the same period. That comes out to an average increase in tuition of $2,050.

The Fiscal Year 2014 budget includes an additional $2.5 million for the Vermont State Colleges and the University of Vermont to mitigate the impacts of their respective 4 percent and 3 percent tuition hikes. Gov. Peter Shumlin highlighted this when he signed the bill into law on Monday. He noted that it was the first increase in the state’s appropriation to higher education in five years.

The Senate passed a bill in March that pursues a much more ambitious path to increase state funding for higher education. It doesn’t make actual changes to the state’s appropriation, but it creates a committee that would be tasked with coming up with a policy to restore the 1980 ratio of state funding to student tuition at the Vermont State Colleges.

The legislation, introduced by Sen. Anthony Pollina, P/D-Washington, states, “In 1980, 51 percent of the revenue supporting our Vermont State Colleges came from state appropriations and 49 percent came from student tuition. Now, after decades of underfunding, state appropriations provide less than 20 percent of the Vermont State Colleges’ revenue and over 80 percent comes from student tuition. This is a huge cost shift onto students and families, many of whom simply cannot afford it.”

The bill didn’t make it out of the House and is sitting in the Education Committee.

Alicia Freese

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