The House Appropriations Committee reviewed the FY2024 budget for the Vermont State Colleges (VSC) on Tuesday. Representatives from VSC shared that in 2020 the state asked them to close down three of their campuses to address a structural deficit of $25M per year. In response, they formed a committee and created a plan to reduce the operating deficit by $5M/year for five years.
They shared that they knew it was going to be difficult; like the discussion of the virtual library, which has created much media attention. a discussion throughout Vermont.
Most students come from in-state, many from low income households. They try to deliver to all students they serve. They saw a drop in enrollment when financial difficulties were announced in 2019, which worsened over Covid and they have been rebuilding slowly but have seen a significant uptick in non-degree programs, primarily because of shift to online learning. Shifting to a remote model has allowed a lot more individuals to pursue certificates or licensure instead of four-year degrees.
Sharon Scott (CFO, VSC) reviewed the budget, which totals $48M for FY2024:
- It proposes $9M bridge funding (matches Governor's budget)
- Allocates $6M to reduce tuition by 25% (Governor recommend $10M over 2 years as a pilot program)
- Adds a new social justice program for $700,000 (not in the Governor's budget)
Also built into the budget is flexibility to respond to adult learners who might be facing family issues which require some time off. VSC can build pipelines for those students when they face challenges or barriers to accessing post-secondary education.
They shared that "going viral" has helped tremendously. Earmarks from Leahy are supposed to expand the nursing program, which will be incredibly helpful. They are committing another $6.3M to build this program out and support more students. They are also applying for federal grants.
Several hospitals have already signed on with federal and Department of Labor grants, which is beneficial for everyone. The wait list is over 100 individuals every year. Two top locations Bennington and Brattleboro, which now have a full cohort of teaching staff because of the funding opportunities now available.
Federal ARPA money ends this year for critical occupations, which will trigger dramatic increases in numbers of students. They highlighted that it is valuable to have no loans in order to get a degree. They would like money continue for those programs because they work.
Another area of high demand is restorative justice, these degrees focus on police and public safety. VSC does see this as an innovative area and this program will become self-sufficient over time. A Committee member noted there was an enormous demand in his experience. Justice departments want to hire those who have studies in this area and want their current employees to take the courses as well.
Updated 2/26/2023 - A previous version incorrectly identified the reasons for enrollment declines.