Home News and Features Features Presenting: Higher Education in Washington County

Presenting: Higher Education in Washington County

By Audrey Seaman.
A record-breaking 21.8 million students attended colleges and universities across the United States in 2013, as reported by the National Center for Education Statistics. At the same time, there are disturbing signs that higher education may be in severe trouble.
Here are some of those disturbing signs of trouble:

  • Tuition Inflation: According to Vermont Congressman Peter Welch, college costs are up 1,120 percent over the last 30 years. Said Welch, “A college diploma is slipping further and further from the reach of young Americans.
  • Increased Adjunct Faculty: According to a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, about 70 percent of the instructional faculty at all colleges nationwide are off the tenure track, and that figure continues to grow. Based on a Chronicle of Higher Education Report, even if an adjunct faculty member teaches four courses a semester, his or her $23,176 average annual salary will be less that one-fifth of the $123,541 average pay for a tenure-track faculty member.
  • Student Debt: Nationwide student college loan debt has reached $1.2 trillion, as stated in a recent release announcing House passage of the bipartisan college affordability legislation.
Here in Vermont, the state’s higher education system is facing some tough challenges. Both public and private institutions are becoming more and more dependent on tuition paid for by the student and/or the student’s family.
. Commenting on public (taxpayer) support of higher education on Vermont Public Radio, Vermont State Colleges Chancellor Timothy Donovan said, “Vermont’s a state that doesn’t fund higher education as well as I think we would like it to.” The State Higher Education Executive Officers association finance report ranked Vermont 49th in the country for state appropriations per full-time equivalent student.
Although Vermont boasts a 92.5 percent high-school graduation rate, only 34.2 percent of the state’s population complete their college studies and earn a diploma, according to 2013 census data. What does this mean? That a four-year college education is prohibitively expensive for many Vermont students and their families? That Vermonters don’t see the value of a four-year college education? Or are Vermont high school graduates finding other ways of preparing themselves to enter the workforce and make a life for themselves? Despite the gap in Vermont between high school graduation and college completion, Vermont continues to offer a range of college choices.
In Washington County alone there are six very different institutions of higher education: everything from the hands-on educational offerings at Yestermorrow and the New England Culinary Institute, to the nearly 200-year legacy of the first private military college in the nation—Norwich University—and what appears to be an emerging national center for education in the arts at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Then there’s Goddard College with its history of groundbreaking progressive education and the Community College of Vermont that is a model of geographic accessibility across the state.
Given the renewed public interest in higher education both across the nation and in Vermont—over the next few months The Bridge will focus its attention on the six institutions of higher learning in Washington County. We will begin our higher education profiles with Yestermorrow in our August 28 issue, and we will be featuring Norwich University this September.