We must make college affordable
The state Legislature is currently considering S.40, a bill to establish a committee to find ways to restore a reasonable level of funding for higher education. I strongly support its adoption. Vermont and its young people will suffer greatly if such a plan is not developed and executed.
We have increasingly failed to invest in the state’s future, allowing higher education funding to dwindle almost to the vanishing point. When I started working at Castleton State College 37 years ago, the state provided more than half of the Vermont State Colleges’ budget. The percentage is now just under 13 percent, a level that ranks 49th out of the 50 states. Where does the difference come from? Mostly, the avalanche of debt our sons and daughters take on. Despite the state colleges’ extraordinary efforts to trim spending — an effort that, if continued, will inevitably result in a decline in quality — student debt has skyrocketed. Sixty-three percent of Vermont college students graduate in debt. The average student owes almost $29,000. What a way to start out in life! Yet the earning power of a college degree holder remains so far greater than that of a high school-only grad and the unemployment rate so much lower, what choice do most of our kids have?
We depend on these students — 84 percent of whom stay in Vermont after they graduate — for the future of the state: the innovators, the teachers, the journalists, the business leaders, and, yes, the legislators. We need to provide them with an affordable higher education, one that will empower them to give back to the state without keeping them in debilitating debt half of their adult lives.