A message from Student Trustee Benjamin Simone

Hi, how’s it going? I’d like to introduce myself to you readers today, my name is Benjamin Simone, and in a few weeks, myself and 12 other members of the VSC Board of Trustees are going to decide on whether or not to raise your tuition.

Now that I’ve got your attention, let me properly introduce myself. I currently represent the student voice of Vermont State College students at the VSC Board of Trustees. Before I go on, let me give you a quick explanation as to how I came to be in this position and what the structure of the Board is.

The Vermont State Colleges, which includes Johnson, Lyndon, Castleton, VTC, and CCV is governed by 12 Board members appointed by the Governor and the 13th member, the student trustee, who is elected by the Vermont State College Student Association (VSCSA). The VSC is led by the Chancellor of the VSC, Jeb Spaulding, who is held accountable by the board.

Among many things, the Board sets tuition rates for the system after hearing from the Presidents of each College. It also approves academic programs, and other matters involving the sustainability of the VSC.

Recently, after agreeing to a tuition freeze for a year, a decision that was made at the end of last year, the board is being asked by the college presidents to reconsider the implementation of this freeze.

Again, to pause for a moment, I should briefly explain the tragic history of state funding for higher education, and the problems that we are facing today. In the 1980’s the state funded the state college system nearly 50 percent, as of today, that number has dropped down to near 18%, one of the lowest rates of state funding in the nation. This dramatic decrease means the majority of the funding necessary to run the colleges comes from tuition and fees. This problem is compounded by the fact that the state is experiencing a decline in population in college age students.

To put this another way, our situation could be looked at as four knobs: one knob is state funding which is staying roughly steady at the moment, the second knob is population which is going down, the third knob is expenses, gas, heat etc. which is going up, and the fourth knob is tuition and fees which therefore has to go up in order to balance out the other knobs.

Last year the board made the decision to have a tuition freeze in order to try to attract more students to the VSC. However, it is clear now that by keeping this freeze in place the deficit for the VSC will rise sharply and college presidents would be forced to make very difficult and painful decisions as to how to continue providing the same level of quality education each one of these institutions provide.

The presidents of each college came to the Finance and Facilities committee of the board and put forward their percentage increases that they would need to keep things currently as is. There would be a 0% increase in tuition for Castleton, a 2.5% increase for Johnson and Lyndon (roughly $300), 3% for CCV (roughly $177), and 4% for VTC (roughly $498).

This increase in tuition would not suddenly end our deficit, but it would prevent it from getting drastically worse. The Vermont State Colleges would still remain as one of the most affordable options for students in Vermont and would continue providing the same quality education experience that students expect and deserve.

However, if this decision is agreed upon at the full board meeting on February 12, here at Johnson State, the board will still have to consider another tuition raise the next year, given the lack of change for the better for VSC funding.

Here is my take on this, as your student representative to the Board. I do not see much of an option here. If we continue with the tuition freeze out deficit will continue to rise and colleges would be forced to take more cost cutting measures. Anyone who has been here for more than a year has already seen what kind of impact those cost cutting measures can do.

So, on February 12, I will unfortunately have to make the decision to pay more to go to college. I do not desire to pay more for my education, but I also want to continue to be proud of the degree I will be getting from this college, and do not want any more of professors to be forced into part time positions, or to see more cuts made to staff and faculty.

I do not mean to depress you further about a situation I am sure that most students here are already aware of. I am writing this because I need your help. The VSCSA, which invites student government leaders from across the system, is the largest student organization in the state. It is paramount to myself and president of the VSCSA, our own Jake Rogenski, that we try to end this downward spiral of state funding.

Our goal this year as the VSCSA is to show the legislature that we are the future of this state. We are the students who stay in Vermont when we graduate, and help contribute to Vermont’s workforce. We are the students who want to stay and help make this state a brighter place for all of us, but currently, given their lack of support for us, they are not giving us much of an incentive to do so.

This year the VSCSA hopes to lead one of the largest student movements this state has seen. The VSCSA already plans on meeting with candidates for governor to make sure that higher education funding is on the agenda. But, we need your help. There can be no bigger impact on the legislature than seeing the students who are tired of tuition increases year after year, in a state that is at the bottom for higher education funding.

I want you all to get motivated. I want to hear your voice, because nothing will change unless you choose to be involved. So, this is my call to action to students to help us make a difference in how our state funds its colleges.

If you have any questions or comments you can email me at [email protected]