Senate panel looks at rising cost of higher education
By JOSH O’GORMAN
VERMONT PRESS BUREAU | April 05,2014
MONTPELIER — A Senate bill to study the financial impact of increasing support for state colleges is getting a positive look from a committee in the House of Representatives.
Senate Bill 91, which was passed during the 2013 legislative session, calls for a study of the financial ramifications of increasing public support for institutions in the state college system, as well as what is driving rising education costs in the first place.
The bill is in the House Committee on Education, where Chairwoman Rep. Johannah Leddy Donovan, a Democrat from Burlington, expressed tentative support for the proposal.
“I think it’s a really important issue. I’m inclined, I think if my committee is, to go forward,” Donovan said. “I think there is probably little hope that we’re ever going to be able to turn the clock back on expenses and tuitions for college-bound kids, but I think we owe them at least some sort of analysis of what’s driving the cost and perhaps what we can do to go forward to address those.”
By “turn back the clock,” Donovan was referring to a proposal in the bill to study the financial impact of providing the same level of support for state colleges as Vermont did in 1980, when the state would appropriate $7.78 for every $1,000 of revenue collected.
That appropriation has declined 57 percent in the intervening years, to $3.31 for the current fiscal year. When looking across the United States, Vermont ranks 46th in providing financial support, just ahead of Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Colorado and New Hampshire.
Wyoming offers the strongest support for its college system, appropriating slightly more than $12 for every $1,000 of revenue collected.
“Your investment in higher education is a statement about your state’s priorities,” said Scott Giles, president and CEO of Vermont Student Assistance Corp.
Giles said in the 1960s, Vermont — along with other states — adopted what he called a “high tuition, high aid” model of school funding, with the idea that aid would be based upon ability to pay, and in doing so would ensure education access for all.
“What happened over time is, the state hasn’t continued the commitment to the high-aid portion of the ‘high tuition, high aid’ model,” Giles said, noting that in 1980, the state grant would cover 22 percent of the cost of education, compared with 10 percent today.
The bill also calls for the study to look at what is driving the rising cost of higher education. In 1980, the cost for state college in Vermont — including tuition, room, board and fees — was $3,090, or approximately $8,800 in today’s dollars. This year, the average cost for state college in Vermont is $21,200.
Qiying Feng is a 20-year-old from Montpelier who is in her sophomore year at University of Vermont. Even after grants, scholarships and assistance from her father, she still has to borrow approximately $2,000 a semester. But, she said, she’s fortunate when compared with her classmates.
“I have friends who are taking out so much money in loans,” she said.
And as an art education major, Feng said, the prospect of loans can act as a deterrent for some students to pursue the course of study they most desire.
“There is a lot of pressure because you need to get a certain kind of job so you can pay back your loan,” she said.
The Senate bill can be read online at goo.gl/iWZCoQ.