Albright: State College Déjà vu

Jun 21, 2016

Let’s get this disclosure out of the way. I taught journalism at Lyndon State College from 2007-2012. I might still be there if, in 2011, the threat of budget cuts had not been real, and my job - even though I hold a doctorate - had not seemed so shaky.

Consequently, I left a rewarding teaching job, and returned to full-time reporting. I’ll admit that was a great gig, too, so things turned out well - for me. But while at LSC I saw gifted teaching by my colleagues, and truly life-changing strides by students who came to us not always prepared for college, and left fully ready for life and work. Lyndon offers experiential education few others can match, like electronic journalism, meteorology, music business and industry, and mountaineering recreation.

But here’s the catch. Nationally known programs like those have, in the past, attracted a lot of out-of-state students. Many of them are now staying home for college - in the vast majority of states that support higher education better than Vermont does. At the same time, young Vermonters are avoiding college, or bailing out of it, because in-state tuition keeps inching up - it’s the second highest in the nation - and financial aid is not keeping up.

Yes, lawmakers gave a $700,000 increase to the VSC this year, as a one-time appropriation. But any college that builds its budgets on a single windfall is foolhardy. Anyway, that money isn’t really enough, and won’t arrive soon enough, to make much difference to the five state schools, including community colleges, that will have to share it.

Lyndon State is not alone in needing more consistent, more generous legislative support. It just happens to be the campus I know best and care about most, just up the road from my house. Disclosure number two: my son-in-law teaches there. But even if he didn’t, and I hadn’t, I’d be calling on our gubernatorial candidates to move better funding for our state colleges to the top of their platforms this summer.

It’s not enough to promise students free tuition, unless you come up with a sustainable way to help state colleges provide it. Unlike UVM, the VSC doesn’t have a lot of private donors. So we all need to share the tax burden. But that would be a bargain, in the long run, compared to housing and feeding a generation of Vermonters with no college degrees.