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Schubart: Creative Reinvention

Many small colleges are struggling with low inquiry, application, and admission rates, including here in the Northeast. Rising tuitions, student loan abuses, and radical change in employment patterns have discouraged many students who then choose to bypass college and just enter the workforce at a lower level of opportunity.

Now combine that thought with the fact that Vermont spends twice as much storing our social and economic fallout in jail as it does supporting its six state colleges. The chancellor and Board have begun a process to merge Johnson and Lyndon to save administrative overhead, but this is structural, and much more could be done to prepare both campuses for the new age we’re entering.

It’s widely accepted that prevention is cheaper and more effective than cure, so what if we took some of the hundred and eighty-million dollars Vermont spends on corrections and invested it in Northern Vermont University to address and ultimately lower the cost of remediating some of our past social and economic investment failures.

Imagine adding a focused diversion curriculum offering a pathway back into society and the changing economy for young offenders that meets them where they are, as well as one for released non-violent offenders. More than half of our prisoners are either past their release date or detainees awaiting trial. Each male prisoner costs fifty-thousand dollars annually and each woman, ninety-thousand, not even counting the cost of caring for their six thousand children. Compare that to the average state college tuition of fifteen-thousand.

Imagine, too, a curriculum that welcomes immigrants and refugees into Vermont’s shrinking population and anxious business community by setting up a specialized curriculum that teaches our language and culture, and provides basic employment skills as well as the fundamentals of civics, American history, and science – all designed by their future professors, employers, and resettlement professionals.

During our lifetime, technical innovation and change has outstripped our evolutionary human capacity to keep pace and, as much as we may turn to the past for comfort, we ignore the future at our peril. We understand a lot about coming change and where it may lead but we can’t effectively prepare for it with endless incremental patches.

We need to project, imagine, reinvent, and act on what we foresee. Our state college system would be a good place to start.

Bill Schubart lives and writes in Hinesburg. His latest book is Lila & Theron.
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