Low support, high tuition, high transfer rate, brain drain

I see a connection between a couple of recent articles regarding higher education — specifically, the affordability of a college education.

First, from the Freeploid (paywalled, sorry), a national study finds that Vermont is near the bottom in support for higher education. 49th, in fact, in state appropriation per full-time student.

And such a bad 49th that, as Vermont State Colleges Chancellor Tim Donovan notes, if the state increased its higher-education funding by 50%, Vermont would rise from 49th all the way to… 47th. The root cause: a steady diminishment of higher-ed funding in the state budget in recent decades.

Over the last 30-plus years, state-supported aid has not kept pace with tuition growth, with the model trending toward “high tuition, low aid” and the financial-aid burden falling increasingly on the institutions. UVM spends about half of its annual $41 million state appropriation on aid just for its Vermont undergraduates, who account for about a third of total enrollment.

According to the Freeploid, restoring state aid to 1980 levels would require “that the state roughly double” its higher-ed appropriation. In 1980, state funding accounted for about half of Vermont State Colleges’ revenue. Today, that figure is down to 20%. The other 80% comes from tuition. (The national average is about what Vermont’s used to be — roughly fifty-fifty.)

Second, an Associated Press story published Monday in the Mitchell Family Organ (paywalled, but might be available somewhere else) reporting that Vermont ranks high in the number of college students who transfer out-of-state before finishing their studies. According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center…

…nationally, 6 percent of students who started at a four-year college in 2007 and completed their degrees by last year did so in a different state than where they began. New Hampshire and Vermont were among a dozen states where more than 10 percent of students took that path – in New Hampshire, it was 11 percent, and in Vermont, 13 percent.

Why so high? One factor common to both states is extremely high tuition for out-of-state students. At UVM, in-state tuition and fees amount to $15,700, while out-of-staters fork over a whopping $36,600.

The element that ties the two stories together: political expediency.  

When budgeting each year, Governors and lawmakers have held down higher-ed funding without apparent awareness of the long-term effect. A little trim here, a little trim there, and pretty soon you’ve got a buzzcut.

Expediency is also obvious in the disparity between in-state and out-of-state tuition. I checked a few other states, and Vermont’s proportions aren’t that unusual — it’s common for public institutions to charge out-of-state students double or even triple the rates for in-staters. The difference with Vermont is that both rates are so damn high. (The SUNY system charges out-of-staters almost three times as much as New Yorkers; but even so, SUNY’s out-of-state tuition is cheaper than UVM’s in-state tuition.)

Which makes a four-year education unaffordable for many students, which leads to Vermont’s high transfer rate.

Which, obviously, has an effect on our oft-bemoaned “brain drain.” If an out-of-state student starts in Vermont but transfers out before graduating, s/he’d be much less likely to come back to Vermont to pursue a career than the student who stays the course and graduates in Vermont.

But these are tight budget times. Governor Shumlin’s budget proposal would increase higher-ed funding by 1%, which would almost maintain last year’s purchasing power. The Legislature, casting about for solutions that don’t actually, you know, cost any money, has come up with two cups of weak tea: a bill that would reimburse part of a student’s tution if s/he stays in Vermont and pursues a career related to his/her course of study; and the every-popular “set up a study committee” to search for ways to return state funding to 1980 levels.

That’d be a magic trick worthy of Criss Angel, considering our tight budgets, reluctance to increase taxes, and all the other demands on the public purse. I’d fully expect the study committee to labor mightily and come forth with a bunch of recommendations that will mostly sit on a shelf in an attractive binder, gathering dust.

Meanwhile, our economy is paying the price(as are our students) for three decades of short-sightedness on higher education.  

7 thoughts on “Low support, high tuition, high transfer rate, brain drain

  1. It’s actually less expensive to send my kid to MIT or Stanford than to UVM, despite being a state resident. Families earning under a certain dollar amount get substantial (aka full) tuition assistance at both of those schools. Bowdoin, in Maine, has also committed to students graduating debt-free.

    I’ve been surprised at how awful VT support for students is.  

  2. It’s actually less expensive to send my kid to MIT or Stanford than to UVM, despite being a state resident. Families earning under a certain dollar amount get substantial (aka full) tuition assistance at both of those schools. Bowdoin, in Maine, has also committed to students graduating debt-free.

    I’ve been surprised at how awful VT support for students is.  

  3. Back in 1984, when I graduated high school in Vermont, UVM already had among the lowest subsidy rates for in-state student. Going to college in Vermont just wasn’t an option then!

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