Vermont spends 37 percent more money on prisons than higher education. The cost of in-state tuition in Vermont is the highest in the nation, while the state funds its colleges at lower levels than nearly every other state.
The College Board lists Vermont as having the most expensive institutions in the nation for residents, with an additional 8 percent increase in 2008.
“There’s a relationship between what the state gives us for funding and what we have to do when we set tuition,” said Castleton State College Dean Joe Mark. “Because we have so little support in terms of state appropriations, yes, our tuition is high.”
“Its criminal,” said CSC non-trad Michelle Laflame. She chose Castleton because as a tax payer she wanted her money to go back into a Vermont institution. She is angry that “the University of Vermont is funded by the state at a higher level than our own state colleges.”
Gov. James Douglas said he is supportive of the Vermont State College system. “My first five budgets included a higher increase in education than the overall budget. Frankly that’s not very much,” Douglas said.
The state budget appropriation for the VSC system is set each year by the governor.
“Every fall the governor develops a draft budget” said Mark.
Then the politicking begins, and everyone fights for an increase in their funding.
“Year after year, the chancellor tries to convince the legislature to provide more support.” Mark said.
Mark explained that if the legislature increases the VSC appropriation than someone else loses. There is no guarantee everyone gets what has been budgeted or that they can keep it once they do get it.
According to CSC financial director William Allen, more than $600,000 of the 2008 VSC funds was taken back by the legislature. It was divided by the five schools and the chancellor’s office.
“The recession that (CSC) got hit with amounted to about $100,000 so far. A lot of people think we’re going to have another one this spring” said Allen.
Vermont Speaker of the House Gaye Symington said, “It needs to be a high priority as we come to tough decisions in our budgets. Throughout my term as speaker, I have consistently funded state colleges at higher levels than the governor had submitted to the legislature.”
The Douglas Vision a Plan for Prosperity, published in 2002 advocated for “maintaining funding levels.even in these difficult economic times, it is critical that we hold harmless our commitment to higher education…We need to provide workers with the education and training they need to compete for 21st Century jobs.”
“Vermonters should not have to leave our state to chase hope and opportunity,” Douglas wrote.
“In the early ’80 we got about a dollar for every dollar we got from students,” said Mark. But that was the good old days.
“Sadly if you look at the long term history of the appropriations as a function of our total revenue, it has been consistently down . . .we get by with so little from the state it’s almost as if it has become a justification,” Mark said.
Gov. Douglas has hopes for a resolution further down the road.
“Clearly we have to do better. I don’t want to promise it in the short term as we face a downturn in revenues, but I hope in the long run we can increase support,” Douglas said.
But in the meantime, CSC students can expect another hike in tuition.
“Next year we are already told by the state that our budgeted funds from the state will be smaller. We have been told to start budgeting with a 5 percent reduction from what we started with this year,” said Allen.
Laflame vowed to fight it.
“I will continue to write letters and e-mails to the governor and my legislators,” she said.
Mark encouraged other students to also be politically pro-active.
He said that in the past “students have gone to Montpelier and demonstrated. Each of them then visited their representative and explained why they were there. It hasn’t happened in about a dozen years but it was effective.