Colody Asks Legislature for Increase in UVM Funding

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(Host) Top University of Vermont officials were in the Statehouse Tuesday in search of more money for the state-supported school.

UVM wants a 3% funding increase. That’s slightly more than was recommended by Governor Howard Dean in his budget.

Interim President Edwin Colodny told lawmakers the school is an economic engine that brings hundreds of millions of dollars into the state.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Sound of the committee hearing) "Ah, good morning Mr. Chairman. My name is Edwin I. Colodny¿."

(Dillon) This was Colodny’s first and last appearance in the Legislature. Colodny is a Burlington native and retired airline executive who was tapped last year to be UVM’s interim president. Colodny’s brought fiscal and management discipline to the school.

On Tuesday, he delivered a plainspoken and pragmatic message. He says the school needs more money to keep core programs and to prevent more cuts. UVM wants a state appropriation of $36.1 million dollars, a 3% increase over the last fiscal year. Governor Howard Dean has only recommended a 2% increase.

But Colodny said that even with the 3% increase, the school may still need to freeze positions and keep faculty salaries below competitive levels. He said UVM and other state colleges actually need much more money. He said he first considered a 10-12% increase in state funds:

(Colodny) "That was a little na¿ve, in light of the circumstances that have since taken place in our economy. But it’s certainly not na¿ve in terms of the needs of the University."

(Dillon) Colodny reminded lawmakers what they already know: That Vermont ranks near the bottom of all the states in terms of financial support for the state college system.

And he said the state investment in the school pays dividends in terms of economic growth. The school estimates it brings in about $240 million a year to the state in tuition, grants, contracts, and other spending.

UVM plans a campaign to raise $250 million in private contributions. The money would provide support for campus improvements, scholarship, faculty appointments and other needs. Colodny told the lawmakers that they need to show support for that campaign to succeed:

(Colodny) "The worst thing that could happen to us over the next few years, while we’re making the case for private money, is for the state to lose interest in supporting the institution. ¿ People want to give where they think there’s going to be success. And we cannot afford the Unviersity to backslide, just because we’ve got a tight economic situation in our state."

(Dillon) Colodny also argued that despite the tight budgets over the last few years, the school has managed to slow the rise in tuition costs. UVM tuition, however, remains the highest in the country for public institutions.

UVM’s budget request is part of the overall state budget, which will probably not come to a vote until the end of the session.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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