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VSC Chair Criticizes Governor's Higher Education Funding Priorities

Vermont State Colleges
A Vermont State Colleges presentation to the House Appropriations Committee shows increasing tutition and fees while state funding falls.

In his budget proposal last week, Governor Peter Shumlin asked the legislature to increase state funding to both the University of Vermont and the Vermont State College system by two percent, beginning in January 2015. But the outgoing chair of the VSC Board of Trustees says that’s not enough, and that the increase is unfairly divided between UVM and the state colleges.

In his speech, Shumlin touted Vermont as a national leader in education, with the highest high school graduation rate in the country. And he said he wanted to help more low-income Vermonters attend college, and get good jobs after graduation.

“Better education and training beyond high school means more of our kids will grow up ready for the high skilled, well paying jobs that out companies are creating,” Shumlin said. 

But some question whether the colleges that help low-income Vermonters achieve that goal are being fairly funded. Gary Moore, of Bradford, has served on the Vermont State College Board of Trustees for over 20 years, and was named chair in 2006. During that time, he says, he’s seen a growing disparity between the state funding that goes to the University of Vermont and the money that has to be divided among the state’s five state colleges.

“For at least 15 years that I can remember, maybe more, but at least 15 years, the legislature has chosen to give us all the same percentage. So therefore every year the gap between UVM and the VSC gets larger. It’s just like giving every one of your employees the same percentage raise.  The CEO is going to get a heck of a lot more money than the entry level person, and each year that gap gets wider,” Moore said.

Moore says in-state students at state colleges are bearing the brunt of that trend (PDF). This fall, about 10,500 Vermonters enrolled in state colleges, in contrast to only about 4,700 in-state students at UVM. Yet if Governor Shumlin’s proposal gains legislative approval, UVM will get an increase of $420,000, while the state colleges will have to divide about half that much money among them. Moore says last-year’s three percent increase amounted to $345 per UVM student, and $95 per state college student. Tuition has risen proportionately in state colleges as well as UVM.

“There are two issues. One is they need to fund post-secondary education at a much higher level for both of us. But the other one is they need to bite the bullet in the way they give out the increases,” Moore said.

Moore has three post-secondary degrees—one from Lyndon State, one from Dartmouth, and one from UVM. So he says he is not trying to weaken the university—just strengthen the VSC. But after more than two decades on the VSC’s Board of Trustees, Moore says he will be stepping down when his term ends in 2015.

“And I really believe it’s time for new leadership, someone who maybe can do a better job at convincing the governor and the legislators just how important the VSC is to Vermont,” Moore said.

In March, he will be honored for his long service by the New England Board of Higher Education.

Charlotte Albright lives in Lyndonville and currently works in the Office of Communication at Dartmouth College. She was a VPR reporter from 2012 - 2015, covering the Upper Valley and the Northeast Kingdom. Prior to that she freelanced for VPR for several years.
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