Deb Billado: The Vermont State Colleges crisis – it did not have to be this way

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Deb Billado, chairwoman of the Vermont GOP.

On Friday, April 17, Vermont State College System Chancellor Jeb Spaulding shocked many Vermonters when he announced that within three days the VSC trustees would vote to close Northern Vermont University campuses in Johnson and Lyndon and would shutter Vermont Technical College in Randolph Center, consolidating the programs there into its Williston location, a facility without adequate housing for students.

This insensitive announcement was made at one of the most stressful times in Vermont’s history. What would lead Chancellor Spaulding to do such a thing? Blame was put on the Covid-19 pandemic and past underfunding of the higher education system. I guess the crisis was too opportune for him to pass up, but it seems he miscalculated the public sentiment. The backlash was quick and strong and on April 19 the board postponed consideration of the move for a week, and then the following day the chancellor withdrew the proposal from consideration.

Imagine being a family in central Vermont whose child, because of financial necessity, is commuting from home to VTC to study nursing, has been hit with the loss of their job due to the Covid-19 virus, is wondering how they will cope with their loss of income, then in the midst of that, hears the news that VTC will be closed, leaving a long commute or a need to find an expensive boarding somewhere in the Williston area?

Deborah Billado, chair of the Vermont GOP

It did not have to be this way. This proposal would cost hundreds of jobs and destroy the economic vibrancy of our rural town centers in struggling areas of our state. The VSC system may be on the brink of insolvency if nothing is done, but considering the stress Vermonters have been experiencing the last two months, shouldn’t Chancellor Spaulding have considered all other avenues in solving the matter before doing what he did? Now he has withdrawn the closing to consider other avenues. Why didn’t he do that before doing what he did when he made this public pronouncement? By his action he has put a possible solution further out of reach since the uncertainty spawned by his announcement will negatively influence any who are currently enrolled or might be considering these schools. All avenues should have been explored before he dropped this damaging message on Vermonters.

VSC is among the lowest state supported state college school systems in the entire country. Why is this and who is responsible? The underfunding began in the period where politician Spaulding was a Democratic operative in Vermont and when Democrats controlled the purse strings. They sent most of available funds to other areas, and in fact K-12 education spending is more than we do on transportation, economic development, agriculture, public safety, and even our pension liabilities. This excessive spending, which has increased by several hundred percent since the year 2000, has been accompanied by a declining student population and mediocre results.

Jeb Spaulding and his Democrat colleagues are the ones responsible for that. After all, their campaigns rely heavily on donations from the Vermont NEA, which exerts pressure on them when it comes to making policy. Imagine if we had dedicated just a fraction of the Education Fund to higher education years back instead of having it all go to the K-12 behemoth!

While there is no doubt that UVM has incurred some remarkably high unexpected costs as the result of the shutdown caused by the pandemic, the comparative harm to the Vermont State Colleges, threatened with closing, must weigh in favor of the latter. I understand UVM has an endowment fund of $550,000,000, and while some say it cannot be spent for this, I would hope they could find a legal way in such a serious emergency to cover such needed costs. There is an old saying that “where there is a will, there is a way.”

Gov. Phil Scott and legislative leaders have come out against this campus closing proposal, but this all begs the question: how did we get here? The perfect storm brought about with the Covid-19 crisis, low Vermont birth rate (Vermont has had unrestricted abortions since 1972 resulting in over 100,000 deaths) and exodus of young Vermonters has led to a shortage of 30,000 high school students over the last 25 years. This demographic crisis continues with a yearly loss of 1,000 students and has exposed the decades of Democrat maladministration of educational funding that occurred. Spaulding blames that underfunding but fails to say it was his Democratic Party that was responsible

In a comment to the VTDigger article I linked at the beginning, Chet Greenwood, pointed to the cause and the solution for this and other Vermont fiscal problems: “Jeb has been in state politics since 1985. Vermont has been losing ground financially in both our VSC system and our pension system for those years. Time to change strategy.”

Please consider running for office or supporting those who do. For if we do not, it is hard to imagine how bad our future will be.

Image courtesy of Vermont State Colleges

17 thoughts on “Deb Billado: The Vermont State Colleges crisis – it did not have to be this way

  1. Hey Deb, Very Well Spoken! Timing is Everything! The importance of keeping these Vt. State Colleges

    Active & Engaged is Obvious to the future of the Students, Communities, Employees, & State.

    If We can’t Financially balance the Budget why not consider selling all Colleges to Harvard Univ. ( or like )

    or maintain some form of Lease Arrangement with the like with the Condition of An Active Status!

    What’s the Future of Marlboro College? Stay Healthy! Friendly, George J. Kingston III

  2. If they want more tax funding, they ought to show us we have enough college required jobs in this state to actually need the colleges.

  3. Corrupt career bureaucrats sitting on brains w/thumb up their nose is *not* a demonstration of responsibility. Bibity bobbity boo – recite the magic words to make this appear as a crisis and all the braindead automatons will believe anything and swallow hook line sinker lol.

  4. Great report Ms. Billado. Just when I think the level of stupidity of VT government has peaked – oh wait – there’s more. Never letting a good crisis go to waste plot thickens as we realize there had to have been a discussion and signing off of other officials – as their prints are all over this attempted hijack of taxpayer funds making this alleged crime a concerted effort.

    However Jeb Spaulding is the face of this planned debacle. And as another bureaucrat and loyal Democrat Party apparatchik – failure to address problems – as solutions would include stepping on the toes of other party operatives while allowing it to reach fake-crisis level. Should resign or be fired bc of his hamfisted handling of entire debacle and harm done to the VT State College institutions, reputation, students and families.

  5. Note, Baruth has two jobs. Prof at UVM and VT legislature salary (with perks-travel, lodging-meals, etc). He should be cut from UVM as a start to streamline. I wouldn’t have any kid of mine attending his class given his Liberalism and possible instruction of such.

    When I learn the likes of Eliz Warren getting $400K for one semester “teaching” have to rile against such extravagance. Coming to light many Univ have endowments consisting of $$$$ billions and they want more? Harvard just gave back $$$million for the recent Gov bail out-assistance bill. And $25 million to the Kennedy Center for the Arts?????

    Must be nice to print Gov money, maybe UVM should do the same. UVM should do the same as the people that are forced to support them. Student Loans—-give me a break, just a means to raise costs against the students and their families. The gold pot at the end of the rainbow.

  6. Not close these money losing institutions is absolute fiscal irresponsibility. It would seem that there are two stark options, close or continue and raise taxes. I for one am opposed to the tax route.

    • How about reform of how these smaller colleges spend money. How many tenured prof’s who do little, How about too many lifestyle classes and educators, Less politically correctness mandated spending.
      Fewer administrators due to fewer mandates.
      Become mor attractive for prospective students, offer more 2 year degrees, no more 4 year Art History
      Lease out some excess buildings

      • VT should
        – stop giving vouchers for students attending out of state schools
        – incentivize attendence for VT colleges
        – expand and incentivize “Trades” at technical schools in VT
        – allow senior high school students to attend trade courses part time in senior year
        – equalize education spending to include state colleges
        – no more tenured academicians – pare down administratiors.

        • And no tax money. Restructure education to include VT State College system and trade schools then get rid of the revenue sucking bureaucrats and reduce State of VT employees to help fund our youth and families VT college level and trade education. Whew.

  7. This is an excellent commentary with one exception. I do not think Jeb Spaulding miscalculated the public sentiment. He knew exactly what the public outcry would be. I think he wanted to be the squeaky wheel that gets the grease before all the others with good causes. It seems to have worked. Unfortunately, Vermont does not have the funds . There will be more urgent needs. I think it was good that Jeb Spaulding tried to worn us about the problems at the colleges but I agree he helped create these problems. The democrats in the Vermont Legislature have regulated and taxed Vermonters to death.

    • Sorry, Deb. In my view, this is a classic example of being given an opportunity to demonstrate fiscal responsibility. Last I heard 2 + 2 still = 4. If the colleges are underenrolled and losing money with no evidence that the situation will improve in the near future, the only sensible option is the close the facilities and move on. Unfortunately, the folks in Montpelier will cave raise taxes and move on the the next dumb decision.

  8. I need some FACTS.

    Does anyone have the first-year placement (sorted by industry) and the first year’s salary sorted by degree? @BilladoDeb

    What is the current debt and how will this gap be squared and when? Also, does anyone have a copy of the petition? I love to see it’s content? Can the colleges be rationalized? What is the value of an education at these colleges via others, the ranking is poor.

    • Would only be relevant as a side-by-side of all colleges and universities VT students are attending.

  9. Apparently Vermont State College System ” Chancellor ” Jeb Spaulding is in
    over his head by making such a decision on these closings !!

    It’s also hard to believe Gov. Phil Scott and legislative leaders, have come out
    against this campus closing proposal………….. outstanding !!

    • That was the plan, don’t think they didn’t talk with each other before the big announcement. The plan was never to change direction, they would have done that, the plan was to get more money from the tax payer so nobody had to make any hard decisions. It’s a manufactured crisis.

    • Buuut…were they for it before they were against it…when the pitchforks and torches come out of the woodwork only then do our thieving officials take note… 😉

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