State colleges meeting in Lyndon draws overflow crowd
LYNDON, Vt. (AP) — An impassioned overflow crowd at Northern Vermont University in Lyndon expressed fears, concerns and suggestions to Vermont State Colleges leadership on Thursday as the system tries to figure out what to do about declining enrollment, low state support, competition and other challenges across the schools.
Leadership has been holding meetings at campuses around the state to gather input on what steps to take to thrive.
Among the challenges, the number of seniors in high schools in Vermont is down 25% and the college-bound population is projected to go down another 15% in the Northeast over five years starting in seven years, said Vermont State Colleges Chancellor Jeb Spaulding. Births in Vermont have also dropped, he said.
State financial support for higher education was also about 50% in the 1980s and now it’s down to about 17%, putting Vermont and New Hampshire at the bottom of the list nationally for their support for public colleges and universities while competing institutions are discounting their tuitions, he said.
About 200 ideas are before the board of trustees ranging from three-year degree options to consolidating or closing institutions and streamlining administration; no decisions have been made, he said.
Students in Lyndon demanded that the meeting be extended to allow everyone who wanted to speak to get a chance to and cheered and clapped after each address.
Student Curtis Base said he had heard rumors about the institution being shut down and solely becoming Northern Vermont University Online, which he said he opposed.
“There are many students here who need one on-one learning or hands-on learning and I should know because I’m one of those students,” he said.
Geology professor Alison Lathrop also pleaded with leadership “not to depend too much on online education” saying there are disciplines where online learning is “utterly inappropriate.” She also was critical of the legislature for the low support of public higher education.
“Relying on 85% student contribution is shameful,” she said.
Spaulding told the crowd as far as he knew there is no proposal to eliminate a campus or be an all NVU Online campus.
“NVU Online is one way for NVU to expand its market in a time of declining traditional student,” he said. “And it’s not for all students but for many students, particularly working students and adults it’s easier for them to access post-secondary education online.”