We realize the Vermont State colleges System faces major financial problems, compounded by the coronavirus pandemic. So does virtually every business in the state, indeed the nation. We’re all trying to figure out how to skate through this crisis and emerge at the other end.
Panic should be the last resort. Yet, the Vermont State Colleges chancellor proposed closing down Northern Vermont University campuses in both Johnson and Lyndon on three days notice. Fortunately, pressure from the Legislature, the governor and alumni postponed that rash proposal.
Curiously, on the same day the state colleges shutdown was proposed, the University of Vermont asked the Legislature for an extra $25 million to deal with the effects of the pandemic. If the state colleges — underfunded for decades — got that $25 million, its immediate problems would be solved, hundreds of jobs would be saved, and thousands of Vermont students could continue their educations.
UVM is a fine school, but its student body has a far smaller percentage of Vermont students than the state colleges do. About 70 percent of students at the state colleges are Vermonters; UVM’s percentage is considerably lower.
The colleges in Johnson and Lyndon have been a godsend for rural Vermont students; they can commute to school, rather than pay room and board; they can hold jobs while they go to school, and that college degree offers a pathway to success. Indeed, many of those students are the first in their families to attend college.
And the Stowe Reporter and News & Citizen have benefited directly from the state colleges. Johnson graduates Peter Hartt, Tommy Gardner, Scott Monroe, Nathan Burgess and Kayla Collier have all done stellar work here. And Jessie Forand, managing editor of our newspapers in South Burlington, Shelburne and Charlotte/Hinesburg, is also a Johnson State graduate. And, our business is the rule, not the exception, at least in Lamoille County.
Since we’re out of panic mode for the moment, it’s essential that the state figure out how to continue to offer rural Vermont students a way to improve their lives. Perhaps it’s campus consolidation; perhaps it’s a much stronger online education program; perhaps there’s a way to deal with Vermont’s declining public-school enrollment by enlisting the state colleges to become part of a K-16 education program; perhaps it is a more aggressive recruiting strategy, for both in-state and out-of-state students.
Businesses all over are figuring out how to scratch their way through the pandemic. The same kind of innovative thought is needed with the state colleges.