Tuition hiked by 4 percent

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In a 9-4 vote on Thursday, Feb. 2, the Vermont State Colleges board of trustees voted to increase the in-state tuition rate by 4 percent for the next two academic years, amidst ongoing debate regarding legislative funding for Vermont state colleges.

Out-of-state tuition will increase 5 percent.

The 4-percent in-state tuition increase will result in an additional $360 per semester. The 5-percent out-of-state tuition increase will result in an additional $960 per semester.

“The quick answer [regarding the tuition increase] is it’s so that the state education holds constant,” said Johnson State College President Barbara Murphy.

Vermont State College students now receive half as much legislative aid as VSC students did 30 years ago, according to Murphy, when $1,500 was awarded to VSC students, without being adjusted for inflation. VSC students, faculty and staff held a rally on Feb. 7 at the Statehouse, calling for more legislative aid for VSC students.

“The big driver [in raising tuition] is to help compensate faculty and staff,” Murphy said.

Six percent of the tuition raise will go toward the utility budget, a 9 percent raise from the previous year. Ten percent will go toward VSC faculty and staff health care.

“I think students will understand it’s a good increase,” Murphy said, “but they may ask, ‘Where’s the state? We’re the ones helping to pay these increases.’”

Murphy noted that VSC faculty and staff salaries are “not extravagantly high.”

“They’re comparable within like faculty at like colleges,” she said.

Part of the tuition increase will go to fund VSC obligations for employee retirement benefits.

The raise in tuition cost will also go toward student life services and new faculty hires; JSC will receive three new faculty members for the fall semester.

“We have a pretty high quality of education at JSC,” Murphy said. “The raise in tuition cost will allow us to keep doing things at that level. It’ll allow us to keep making ongoing investments, and to keep moving forward, rather than just holding our ground.”

Murphy said that JSC administrators would be happy to do an open meeting informing students about the tuition raise.

The board of trustees has up until now considered tuition in its May meeting but last year decided to move that decision up by several months. In an email to the entire VSC community following the board’s decision to increase tuition, Vermont State Colleges Chancellor Tim Donovan noted that “the Board of Trustees agreed to a proposal to set tuition earlier in the year for two reasons.”

According to Donovan, earlier determination would allow the separate colleges more time to plan budgets for the next year and second, earlier notice would facilitate determining financial aid packages for prospective students.

Setting tuition, said Donovan, is “always a challenging and important decision for the board. It is a decision that demands consideration of the key elements of the Vermont State College’s mission… in the context of the VSC mission, levels of public subsidy that are among the lowest in the nation, and the state’s challenges, our tuition is, at the same moment, both too high and too low.”

Donovan said that the hike in tuition was about half the average increase for public institutions nationally.

The increase represents a compromise as the college presidents and the board attempted to balance affordability with maintaining institutional quality in the face of only marginal public fiscal support.

Donovan said the problem public higher education faces in Vermont reflects a national trend, one referred to by President Obama in his State of the Union address: “It is our hope,” said Donovan, “that the Legislature heeds the words of the President… ‘States also need to do their part, by making higher education a higher priority in their budgets.’ …It has long been my belief as Chancellor that any increase in state appropriation that exceeded the rate of inflation could be shared between increasing capacity at the colleges and mitigating the impact of tuition on students and families. The students, the trustees, the presidents and I all look forward to that day.”

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