A note from the Editor: We need to talk

Hey Vermont, we need to talk.

When I started looking at colleges, I thought a lot about those five- and six-digit numbers in the “tuition” section of Naviance’s college match system. I thought about how deeply into debt I might have to go to finance what I thought would be the “best years of my life.”

I had spent a few nights here as a younger teenager, and I romanticized spending my college years skiing and hiking in the mountains. I looked at all kinds of colleges in the Green Mountain State, and most of them were just so expensive.

But Johnson’s price tag seemed right, and then everything else fell into place behind it. At the time, it would have cost almost 10 thousand dollars more a year to stay in-state in New Hampshire than to come here. When I came for a tour, I didn’t want to leave. I loved the staff and students at Johnson. And the views– well, Vermont, you have that in the bag.

Most of my bellyaching was unfounded. I am lucky enough to come from a household with a solid income. I won’t come out of college with mountains of debt, and I know I have a safety net if I need one. So, coming to Johnson seemed perfect. Cheaper than in-state, the majors and people I wanted and a safety net to catch me if I fell.

But not every student gets genetically lucky. Not every student is born into money. This is a reality, Vermont, especially for you.

More than half of all high school students from low-income families in Vermont don’t go to college, and the culprit is the price tag. With a financial barrier in the way, these kids can’t afford to attend college. The ones that do are going out of state, and the population of Vermont is just getting older and older.

Aging isn’t the biggest issue. State fiscal support for higher ed is suffering here. We rank dead last in the nation for state funding for students. The amount of funding provided by the state in 2017 divided by each full time (or equivalent) student is $2,695. The national average is more than double that, with $7,642.

So Vermont gives less than $3,000 to our colleges for each student. With in-state costs at NVU pushing $25,000 a year, this really isn’t a big enough expenditure.

This isn’t what we set out to be, Vermont. In 1961, you promised the Vermont State College System would be “supported in whole or in substantial part with State funds.” Public funding for higher education in Vermont has declined over the past 40 years, from approximately 50 percent in 1980 to 17 percent. Seventeen percent doesn’t seem substantial to me.

This also means that Vermont students are shouldering 83 percent of the burden of funding higher ed, the highest percentage in the country. The average reliance on student revenue for the whole country is nearly half that, at 46.4 percent.

Jeb Spaulding, Chancellor of VSCS, has asked the Vermont Legislature for a $25 million increase over five years, to almost double its contribution to the VSCS, for a total of 30 percent. This proposal was first debuted at a press conference on Dec. 19 of last year, and it was supported by testimonials by Tyrone Shaw, a professor at NVU-Johnson, and Adriana Eldred, a student.

This isn’t an isolated issue at NVU or in the VSCS. Enrollment has steadily dropped, and although we are seeing a positive trend at NVU this year, we can’t ask our students to shoulder the brunt of debt anymore.
As I said, I am not a native Vermonter, and I don’t come from what is considered a low income family. But Eldred does, and her story and the stories of other in-staters made me realize what a dire issue this is. Even if I don’t see my direct costs drop, helping others get the education they want from an institution in Vermont is worth advocating for. You can read Eldred’s opinion piece on page 7.

Big picture, this is all about you, Vermont. The VSCS graduates more Vermonters in a year than all the other colleges and universities in the state combined. Investing in the VSCS is an investment in yourself, in your young people.

Hear me out, Vermont. For a state with the highest number of higher ed institutions per capita, you’d think you’d be doing something right. But if you don’t help your struggling students and public colleges and universities, you’re going to see them sink.

–Rebecca Flieder, Editor-in-Chief