State colleges mull tiered tuition
By David Taube
VERMONT PRESS BUREAU | December 07,2012
MONTPELIER — Vermont State Colleges trustees have discussed the possibility of setting different tuition rates for different majors as part of an effort to remain competitive in a rapidly changing higher education marketplace.
The discussion came during a committee meeting Wednesday evening, when attendees from students to college presidents considered how the board of trustees should approach tuition in the future.
“We all know some programs have more value to their graduates, and some have less,” Chancellor Timothy Donovan said at the meeting of the Facilities and Finance Committee of the board.
Donovan noted that virtually all program pricing at Castleton, Johnson and Lyndon state colleges is the same, regardless of factors like the cost of delivering the program or a graduate’s market value upon graduation.
The situation is the same with Vermont Technical College and Community College of Vermont, Donovan wrote in a Wednesday memo.
That indicates colleges have applied something of a cookie-cutter approach to tuition, he suggested.
Several board members advocated exploring the idea of charging tuition based on majors or the potential income a graduate could earn. But Johnson State College President Barbara Murphy said that charging science majors more than English majors could be a hard sell for some people.
The discussion comes as higher education institutions are grappling with how to remain competitive in a marketplace in which some major players like Stanford University are providing free online courses. A joint effort also recently launched includes Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and University of California, Berkeley.
Community College of Vermont President Joyce Judy suggested free online courses are not as straightforward as they seem, pointing out that alumni donations or tuition ultimately supports the educational programming for others.
The board Wednesday also considered waiting until 2014 to set tuition for fiscal year 2015, rather than making that decision in February as planned.
Donovan suggested holding off could allow time for the system to re-evaluate itself.
Some board members thought postponing a tuition rate decision could be a form of procrastination or would just be delaying the inevitable.
No decisions were made.
Trustees agreed that a Priorities Committee would formulate a plan for moving ahead in January.
In February of this year, the board changed its approach to setting tuition. Instead of setting the rates for only one year as usual, the board sets tuition for two years; rates are increasing 4 percent in each of those years, through fiscal year 2014.
The college system also has postponed the refinancing of nearly $19 million in bonds. The rates will go from 4.5 percent to 3.3 percent, saving $2.5 million over 15 years, Chief Financial Officer Thomas Robbins said before Wednesday’s meeting.
The refinancing will occur early next year, rather than next week, in order to combine two different portions of bonds, about $12 million and $8 million, into one group.