Emerson Lynn’s recent editorial (“Deal with it, please”) demands a response. As is often the case, Mr. Lynn makes excellent points. Yes, our Vermont State Colleges face big challenges, as do virtually all small, rural, residential colleges. Compared to other public higher education institutions around the country our situation is even more challenging, due to receiving bottom ranked State financial support… # 49 or 50 in the country, depending on the measure.
But, Mr. Emerson is not fully informed when he states that the status quo holds sway in the Vermont State Colleges System and that nothing is changing. Each one of our member institutions (Castleton University, Community College of Vermont, Northern Vermont University, and Vermont Technical College) is adapting and innovating to meet the realities of the world around us. Yes, some restructuring and rightsizing is taking place. In addition, new degree, credential and apprenticeship offerings aligned with high-demand workforce needs are being added. These changes are all aligned with our mission, for the benefit of Vermont, to deliver affordable, high quality, student-centered, and accessible education consistent with student aspirations and regional and state needs. The changes our institutions are currently making are precisely the changes Mr. Emerson is right to point to as the primary objectives – to provide education for Vermont’s workforce of the future, and particularly to meet the needs of the 40 percent-plus of Vermont high school graduates who currently don’t continue education beyond high school in any form. Vermont’s economic future depends on us, and these students, being successful.
While implementing these forward-looking changes, each of our college presidents have also been tasked with developing concrete action steps to meet the biggest challenges: to achieve consistent positive operating results and sustainable campus configurations, consistent with realistic enrollment and state funding projections. This is not an easy task, but our VSCS Board of Trustees expects a plan, and our presidents will be reporting to the board in March and June.
We are doing all in our power to adjust to today’s and tomorrow’s realities. True, with extraordinarily low State support we do find it is increasingly difficult to address those realities and to fulfill what our constituencies expect of us. It is entirely reasonable to expect that the Governor and Legislature will do their part as well. Our request is simply to commit to increase our funding level from the State over the next few years to the New England average for two and four year colleges and universities. Doing so will help to loosen the hands tied behind our backs.
Jeb Spaulding, Chancellor
Churchill Hindes, Chair,
Board of Trustees
Vermont State Colleges System