With enrollment down, state colleges begin own efficiency push

Secretary of Administration Jeb Spaulding. VTD/Josh Larkin
Jeb Spaulding, chancellor of the Vermont State Colleges, told lawmakers recently about an effort to consolidate functions among the institutions to save money. VTDigger file photo.
In an echo of the school district consolidation efforts around the state, Vermont’s state colleges are looking for ways to offer more opportunities to students while saving money through efficiencies of scale.

“We are being proactive and working together as a system to ensure that the limited number of dollars we have are spent on the most important thing: the student experience,” Vermont State Colleges Chancellor Jeb Spaulding told lawmakers last week.

The VSC’s long-range planning committee directed the presidents of Castleton University, Johnson State College, Lyndon State College, the Community College of Vermont and Vermont Technical College to come up with ways to consolidate and better coordinate functions. Their recommendations will be considered by the board of trustees at its July meeting.

The hope is to keep each campus operating with its own identity, but to avoid duplication and streamline administration. “If our colleges are to remain financially viable, we must find ways to lower our cost of delivery and target available funding to the kinds of things that contribute to a high-quality educational experience for our students,” said Jerome Diamond, chairman of the planning committee.

Like the state’s pre-kindergarten through 12th grade school system, the state colleges are suffering from declining enrollment. They, too, have seen increases in health care costs for their employees. Yet state funding of the colleges remains flat, unlike the annual increases in education spending at the elementary and secondary levels.

State funding to the colleges has not increased since 2008, and Gov. Peter Shumlin has level funded the state colleges again in his fiscal year 2017 budget proposal, according to Spaulding. In the past, they have relied on tuition in the absence of higher state spending — 18 percent of the colleges’ budget comes from the state, and 82 percent from tuition and other sources — but now enrollment is not going up.

“We are really going backward, swimming as hard as we can,” said Spaulding. “We actually have 172 fewer people working for the state colleges. We can’t keep doing that forever.” He said administrators have chosen not to fill vacancies and have deferred maintenance.

Vermont’s state college tuition is among the highest of any state in the nation. Although the state has one of the highest high school graduation rates, it lags when it comes to the number of students who go on to college and graduate.

“Vermont has the highest cost for continuing education in the country,” Spaulding said. “This is stopping kids from going to college.” This break in the student pipeline is happening at the same time that policymakers want to increase the number of Vermonters with post-secondary degrees to 60 percent, from 45.5 percent.

“We are hoping that over the next 30 years we can move ourselves into a position where we are not so reliant on tuition and students can afford to go to their state colleges and not end up with the amount of debt we are seeing,” Spaulding said.

Many of the Vermonters who go to the state colleges are the first generation in their families to attend college. Last year, 583 degrees were earned by first generation students. Typically, these students are more expensive to support since they often are not as academically prepared, according to Spaulding. They also often have to work outside of school to support themselves, and that makes it harder to earn a degree, he said.

“If we are able to attract more Vermonters to go to college and actually graduate from college, the (expanded) programs would start to increase in cost, (and) the economic advantage would pay off in terms of revenues. More Vermonters would be in the workforce,” Spaulding said, adding that fewer people would end up in the criminal justice system and using social services. “It should pay for itself,” he said.

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Tiffany Danitz Pache

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  • edward letourneau

    “Vermont has the highest cost for continuing education in the country,” — This is not new. In the 1960s is was cheaper to pay out of state tuition in other states, then it was to go to school in Vermont. The solution is not taxing the middle class more for them. The solution is to overhaul Act 250 and cut taxes and fees that are keeping business out of Vermont.

  • Peter Chick

    Why do I not hear this from public schools as their enrollment is down as well.

    • Chuck Shannon

      Unfortunately because of the Union we will never hear the true facts. We are tricked into thinking that we need to spend more every year. Don’t forget that Teacher’s Salaries do not show you the other benefits that come with it. Healthcare alone is 25k..

    • edward letourneau

      Because this state has so many unfunded mandates, that no one really knows where to start cutting, without breaking some law — and the unions keep pushing for more and more, with every contract, but its only because they love the children. (And to be fair, some of them do, but too many union leaders think taxpayers have money trees so its all ok.)

  • samuel shultis

    Now that Wolk and Spaulding have stuck a knife into what was once cohesion between the three ‘state’ schools by simply ‘renaming’ Castleton to university status, wannabes that wouldn’t stand a chance at a Dartmouth, Wesleyan, Babson, Bowdoin or RISD (and many more could be mentioned here) will be flooding the VT market with out-of-state tuition dollar$. This will make it even more challenging for locals to entertain the thought of a secondary education. The words ‘higher’ might have been chosen were it not for Friday’s upcoming vote on the legalization of reefer ….

    • Richard M Roderick

      Call it whatever you want, it is still a state college. What a waste of money. They should change the name back (I know it will cost money) and then market the 5 colleges together. They are five colleges. Just because you call it a University doesn’t make it one.


    I don’t see how a state this small can support 4 state schools not including UVM – may be time to close one of them.

  • J Scott Cameron

    My advice to Chancellor Spaulding and the presidents of the various Vermont State colleges is to look hard at cost-cutting measures, but also to do some out-of-the-box thinking on new marketing strategies, particularly using the internet. Back that up with participation from faculty, staff, administrators, alumni and students who are willing to reach out to high quality applicants on a personal level and really ‘sell’ the schools. It isn’t a sellers market anymore; demographically the pool of applicants is shrinking. The colleges, universities and grad schools that sit back and carry on with business as usual will be left behind. You have a great product and Vermont is a super place to go to school! How best to sell it?

    I wouldn’t hold out a lot of hope for more money from Montpelier. They’ve already spent it. Good luck!