by Carla Occaso
MONTPELIER — A college education helps bridge the financial divide between “haves” and “have nots,” said Jeb Spaulding, Chancellor for Vermont State Colleges and former secretary of administration to Gov. Peter Shumlin. Spaulding spoke to the Montpelier Rotary Club at its February 1 meeting in the Capitol Plaza Hotel.
Vermont has the lowest rate of high school students enrolling in colleges among the New England states. And with decreasing student population overall, this is causing problems at the level of higher education. Spaulding, describing the Vermont State Colleges system, sang the praises of the five institutions of higher education under his auspices: Castleton University, Community College of Vermont, Johnson State College, Lyndon State College and Vermont Technical College. Castleton has 75 programs that include master’s and doctoral programs. Community College of Vermont is seen as a way to get inexpensive transferrable credits and then move into a bigger or more prestigious program — or simply to get an entire degree at a lower cost than most colleges. Lyndon State College is famous for turning out meteorologists, including many of the original founders of The Weather Channel, and Johnson is famous for its science and theater programs.
Vermont Technical College has employers vying for students who are being snapped up by out-of-state companies who can afford to pay higher salaries, Spaulding said. Vermont Tech’s programs include agribusiness, architectural engineering, landscape design and renewable energy. Spaulding said he recently got a call from a well-known resort developer who was seeking students with bio tech backgrounds.
“We are the lynchpin of upward mobility,” Spaulding said, describing how students can go to college tuition free if they work hard and get good grades in high school. Not going to college keeps people stuck in a cycle of poverty.
“There are thousands of students not going to college, it is a real limiter on their future,” Spaulding said. Getting legislature to increase funding in this area might also decrease the need for funding in some of the social services, such as corrections, food assistance, fuel assistance and anything to do with poverty.
Spaulding said he is making the effort to help high school students learn about the programs at local colleges in hopes of attracting more students. This includes inviting students to visit campus and see what it is like. He also hopes to attract the senior set. People who are over 65 and retired may want to get that education they were never able to complete in younger years. In fact, Johnson State College has a program specifically designed for adults who have not finished their college degree and want to start over. And with an aging population, this is a rapidly growing potential pool of students.