Tuition Increases At Vermont’s Public Colleges Rising Faster Than Median Income

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Over the past five years, college tuition at Vermont’s public institutions has risen by at least 27 percent. But income growth has not kept pace.

That’s the finding of a report out this week from the New England Board of Higher Education.

The report shows a range of tuition hikes in Vermont’s state colleges and at the University of Vermont.

Price tags differ, depending on whether the student lives in or out of state, and the data shows only tuition rates, without taking financial aid into account.

But in general, tuition has risen by between 3 and 4 percent every year for the past five years, and a few schools have hiked costs even higher in some years. 

The report also says that in 2011, a single year of college tuition represented about 21 percent of Vermont’s median household income. That’s a problem, says report co-author Monnica Chan.

"If tuition and fees continue to rise and family income continues to stagnate we are not really serving our students to the best of our ability." Chan said.

She says one reason Vermont’s public college tuitions are among the highest in the region is that Vermont ranks near the bottom of the nation when it comes to state appropriations.

Timothy Donovan is chancellor of the Vermont State College system. He says that makes it hard to keep tuition flat when costs such as health care continue to rise.

"So it’s something we’re attending to. We’re putting more funds into helping those students who have needs that we can try to address through institutional aid, and just trying to monitor costs," Donovan said.

According to the report, Vermont State College tuitions, on average, rose for in-state students  just over 26 percent over five years.

And the University of Vermont rose 28 percent.

Marie Johnson directs the financial aid office at UVM. She says the university works hard to get aid into the hands of students who need it, not just in the first year, but all the way through college.

"To have drastic increases in tuition or reductions in aid just would not support that very high institutional goal," Johnson said.

Chan, of the New England Board of Higher Education, commends Vermont for what she calls innovative strategies to make college affordable. But she still believes that overall, public colleges and universities need to take a hard look at their prices.

When a student gets sticker shock by looking at the catalogue, without knowing what financial aid may be available, she fears many will think twice about applying to college at all. 

Governor Peter Shumlin is calling for more generous state appropriations for higher education, but the future of that proposal is uncertain.

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