The recent proposal by Chancellor Spaulding to close Northern Vermont University and Vermont Technical College-Randolph is heartbreaking as it will be economically devastating to the local regions and the hardworking families and students that are served.
While this proposal has come as a shock to many, it shouldn’t surprise legislators or administration officials. Our elected officials have long known the shameful fact that Vermont has consistently failed to adequately fund higher education. Vermont commits fewer public dollars to our state college system (per full time student) than any other state in the nation. This needs to change, and it needs to change now or this proposal will be enacted and our state colleges will be forced to close.
We understand that changes to the Vermont State Colleges System are necessary. The system faces incredible demographic and financial challenges, but closing NVU, an economic engine for Vermont, will strike a massive blow to the economy. It is not the answer. Our total economic impact in Northern Vermont is conservatively estimated at $113 million annually. Additionally, we bring 18,000 people to our region every year. And we attract out-of-state students that choose to make Vermont their home after they graduate. Elected officials often talk about their goal of keeping young people in Vermont. If we are serious about this goal, we will provide our youth with access to higher education here in Vermont. Without that access, many Vermonters will either not get a college degree or will go out of state—possibly to never return.
NVU also provides vital access for students in pursuit of higher education. More than half of our students are first in their family to attend college. Seventy percent of our students are Vermonters and seventy-six percent of NVU Online students are in-state.
NVU has over 2,300 students. They are amazing. If NVU closes, we will be heartbroken at the loss in leadership, creativity, and innovation that the state will suffer at a time when it is so sorely needed, now and in the future.
Northern Vermont University was created as an innovation to higher education. It has been recognized nationally for its accomplishments. We have met and exceeded every benchmark the Board of Trustees and the Chancellor set forth. NVU is the only public residential institution in Vermont that hasn’t borrowed from the system to meet its budget in recent years. In fact, NVU has reserves. This has been accomplished through immense sacrifice from our staff, faculty, leadership and students. We have asked our students to believe in NVU. They gave us that trust and that belief. We hold that sacred.
Chancellor Spaulding, NVU, and the other colleges have made it clear that this system needs increased annual appropriations of $25 million to survive. Vermont provides only 17% of the budget for the colleges and universities where the vast majority of Vermonters will access their education after high school.
The statute forming the Vermont State College System states, “The corporation shall plan, supervise, administer, and operate facilities for education at the post-secondary level, supported in whole or in substantial part with state funds.” Seventeen percent of the budget is not whole or substantial.
The two-year political cycle continues to kick this issue down the road. We are at the end of the road. If there was ever a last call to support higher education adequately in the state, this is it.
President Elaine C. Collins
Northern Vermont University