State Headliners: After three private colleges close, Vermont State College system offers survival plan

By Guy Page

Three private colleges in Vermont recently have closed. Vermont state colleges are hurting, too. Enrollment is in decline. Rising tuition has hurt competitiveness. Public confidence is the value of a college education is way down.

The “white paper” issued June 26 by the Chancellor’s Office of the Vermont State Colleges System (VSCS) paints a worrisome picture. But “Securing the Future” also offers strategies that may restore longterm viability to the four state colleges: Community College of Vermont, Vermont Technical College, Castleton University and Northern University of Vermont, the new name of the recently merged Lyndon State College and Johnson State College. The University of Vermont is separate from VSCS.

The problems

The private colleges that failed — Green Mountain College in Poultney, Southern Vermont College in Bennington, and the College of St. Joseph in Rutland — were more at the mercy of the brutal enrollment and cost pressures than the state colleges, which receive some state funding. Still VSCS faces serious problems:

  1. Historically weak demographics – the number Vermont high school graduates dropped from 7,000 in 2008 to 5,250 in 2018.
  2. Bottom-ranked State support – VSCS is at or near the bottom in state funding compared to other state college systems. In 1981 state assistance and “other revenue” were about 50/50. Now only 17% of VSCS funding comes from state government.
  3. Pricing itself out of competition – Vermont has the highest tuition of all state colleges, the College Board reported in 2018. Non-traditional, online learning also is exerting strong competitive pressure.
  4. Change is hard – “Our campus cultures, mature union contracts, and aging physical infrastructure do not lend themselves to rapid adaptation,” the white paper reports.
  5. Changing student preferences and attitudes – Confidence in higher education in the US has decreased significantly since 2015, more than any other U.S. institution that Gallup measures. One third of Americans no longer believe a four-year degree prepares graduates to succeed in a job.
  6. Disruptive technology and delivery – Vermont State Colleges can’t afford to not use advanced cyber tools in enrollment, administration and education, not to mention teaching these skills to students. But effecting change is expensive – possibly prohibitively so.

The proposed solutions

No self-respecting White Paper closes without suggesting how an institution can get out of the mess in which it finds itself. “Securing the Future” proposes:

  1. Lead a private-public partnership called “Achieve Vermont” to encourage high school graduates to pursue postsecondary education.
  2. Improve college retention and graduate rates by equipping staff to use national “best practices” and cyber tools created for this purpose.
  3. Market VSCS to students and employers as an attractive destination for Vermont high school students.
  4. Do a better job serving working Vermonters via workforce development initiatives, more online learning, and offering condensed seven-week semesters.
  5. Reduce costs through continued integration of services, as has already happened with the Johnson/Lyndon merger.
  6. Lobby the Legislature for more funding by showing VSCS value to residents and employers.

To read the entire white paper click here.

Statehouse Headliners is intended primarily to educate, not advocate. It is e-mailed to an ever-growing list of interested Vermonters, public officials and media. Guy Page is affiliated with the Vermont Energy Partnership; the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare; and Physicians, Families and Friends for a Better Vermont.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Jared C. Benedict

5 thoughts on “State Headliners: After three private colleges close, Vermont State College system offers survival plan

  1. Vermont is missing the boat by not educating more for the trades and gearing students up earlier in their educational experience for exposure to much needed and lucrative trades opportunities. We sent 5 kids through our local HS. The “Guidance” counselors were more interested in shoveling kids toward a liberal arts college career (i.e.: huge debt with a VERY uncertain field associated with a four-year liberal arts degree) pressured by VSAC and Supervisory Unions’ penchant for touting “success” in getting kids to bite on the college scheme. VTC should be all out widening programs for simple, effective careers in electrical, mechanical and construction trades…NOT just engineering. I was shocked to find out that VTC doesn’t offer licensing for gas, plumbing or electrical. A lot of these empty educational buildings around the state could be filled with students who would gain a valued craft, stay IN the State (all of our kids have left for greener employment pastures like NH) and not be saddled with six figure school loans. Have you tried to find an electrician lately?!

  2. Apparently, these headmasters must have taken there College Management from the
    Jane ” Take the Money ” Sanders, business school ………………..

    I bet their retirements are still intact !!

  3. I see this, in truth, as nothing but good news. A decline in the power and influence of Marxists over young minds, and a chance for the sociopolitical demographic of this state to shift away from the Left. It’s critical that it happen.

  4. College IS NOT for everybody! It should be difficult to afford to go to college; that’s what made a Degree so worthwhile! It’;s the struggle! Like many segments of our culture, college (in general) has priced itself out of the reach of many! The main reason for the tremendous rise in college tuition today (and in the past 3 decades) is the availability of Federal money. Vermont is going to lose 3 fine schools. We used ti live in Rutland and we went to Castleton (part-time) in the late 70’s My wife worked at Rutland Hospital and I worked for the Sherburne Corp.

  5. Move it all online the cost will dramatically drop and we’ll be rid of the
    America hater leftist profs. who pollute the younins with commie idealism’s. We can visually and hear proof that collage don’t work from prime examples like
    AOC who with 4 yrs of top notch edumaication can’t sting together a cognizant sentence that makes any sense. Biden is another prime example, I’ve got
    rocks in my drive way with more smarts then that dufus.
    Seems to be a scam on demotards kids getting preferential admission to all the top notch skools that was rooted out by Tucker tonight. Lets see who DON’T go to jail on this revelation.

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