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Sen. Pollina Has Plan to Make College More Affordable

Pollina says his plan is needed because more and more Vermont families can’t afford to send their children to one of the 5 colleges in the Vermont State College system.  And he says many students who do go to college are saddled with huge student loan debt.

So it is high tuition but it is conscious decisions by the Legislature to under fund our state colleges that are responsible for the high tuition - Senator Anthony Pollina

Currently, tuition and room and board is almost $20,000 a year and the cost of tuition represents about half of the total expense.

Pollina points out that in 1980, the State Colleges got roughly half of their overall budget from the state but he says this percentage has fallen dramatically.

“Now the state provides less than 20 percent of the support that the State Colleges get, so there’s been this huge cost shift onto families and students who now bear the burden of 80 percent of the costs of supporting our state colleges,” said Pollina. “So it’s high tuition but it’s conscious decisions by the Legislature to under fund our state colleges that are responsible for the high tuition.”

Under Pollina’s plan, all tuition would be deferred until after a student graduated. Then the student would pay back the tuition costs over time based on their level of income.

“We have what we refer to income sensitivity for public education up to grade 12. Nobody pays more than about 2 percent of their income in property taxes to support public education,” said Pollina. “ But once you get out of grade 12 and you decide to go to a state college, the average family in Vermont is going to see an expense close to 30 percent of their income to send their kid to a state college. What this does is it adds the income sensitivity idea to higher education as well.

If 10 percent of the students used Pollina’s plan, the VSC system would face an annual budget deficit of roughly $12 million. Pollina says this budget gap could be eliminated by issuing a state education bond.

Dan Smith is the director of Community Relations and Public Policy for the Vermont State Colleges. He says Pollina’s plan is worth looking at.

“It’s really part of our responsibility to be open to ideas that can be brought to bear on the affordability question,” Smith said.

But Smith wants to be certain that the proposal isn’t used by the Legislature to further erode financial support for the State Colleges.

“Because that lack of state support is one of the major cost drivers our students and families paying tuition face,” said Smith. “And the second is just a core financial question it just has to be a financially realistic concept for the 5 colleges that I work with.”

Senator Pollina says he hopes that both the Senate and House Education committees will take a serious look at his plan during the 2014 session.

Bob Kinzel has been covering the Vermont Statehouse since 1981 — longer than any continuously serving member of the Legislature. With his wealth of institutional knowledge, he answers your questions on our series, "Ask Bob."
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