By SGA President Shavonna Bent
At the recent board of trustee’s dinner, I had the chance to sit down with President Collins and Chancellor Spaulding and talk about many things the state legislature is considering for this session. Of course, the hot topic was increased funding for the Vermont state college system (VSCS).
To set the stage—Vermont has been ranked second worst for state funding of higher education for a long time. This has resulted in the second highest in-state tuition in the country. You might be asking, who could possibly be worse? I had the same question, and much to President Collin’s and Chancellor Spaulding’s chagrin, it’s our neighbors to the east. Thank goodness for New Hampshire, at least we’re not the worst!
Over the last year, the chancellor’s office has worked tirelessly to advocate for an increase in appropriations for the VSCS. They have made this request countless times over the years, but this session the request has gained some traction. This increased attention is due in large part to the decision to unify Johnson and Lyndon, as we are clearly doing everything we can as institutions to reduce operational costs.
As a member of the Vermont State Colleges Student Association (VSCSA) for two years, and in the role of President of the organization this year, I have had the chance to work closely with student trustee Morgan Easton, Tricia Coates, Elaine Sopchak, and Yasmine Ziesler, from the Chancellor’s office. From the beginning, they stressed the importance of a cohesive message coming from anyone requesting increased funds for the state colleges.
That cohesive request is a $4 million increase in base appropriations for the VSCS, with an inflationary increase each year. Even with this extra funding, we would still run a deficit, and we would still be second worse for higher education funding by State. However, it would be an incredible boost to a system that is struggling to serve over 10,000 Vermonters, with an additional 9,000 accessing the system to continue their education.
Over the last few months, student government leaders and others from across the VSCS have been making phone calls, writing letters, and pushing this request forward. The faculty and staff unions at Johnson have been active in making similar requests. Lamoille county’s Matt Hill and Dan Noyes introduced and co-sponsored a House bill that would support the request. Governor Scott included the increase in his budget proposal, one of the only increases he supported.
As the House budget was passed Friday, March 24 without the full increase and no inflationary language, attention has turned to the Senate. To that end, the VSCSA is organizing a petition to be signed by students, staff, and faculty from across the VSCS in support of the $4 million increase.
The statehouse is buzzing, and legislators support the bill (although concerns over where the money will be taken from have been voiced, and need to be addressed). Although much of the support is due to a drastic measure of unifying within two years, much of the interest has also been generated because students have spoken up and made their voices heard.
This is democracy at its finest—every voice can and should be heard. Stop by the table in the Fireside Lounge or the SGA office in Stearns 411 before April 14th to sign the petition and make your voice heard.