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It's Easy Spending Other People's Money

By Robert Patton
On February 2, 2012


Once more the Vermont State College trustees have proved that they know how to spend other people's money. This time it's the money of already financially pressed students who are already paying some of the highest state college tuition rates in the country.
The eight percent hikes imposed over the next two years are certainly not cost-of-living increases. Last year the federal government deemed no such increase was needed for retirees on Social Security and this year awarded a increase far smaller than what VSC is demanding from students. Next week LSC students and faculty will go to Montpelier to demonstrate for increased funding.
But the sources of state funding are the taxpayers. And the taxpayers are your parents, neighbors and very soon, you and your classmates. Between huge college loan payments and oppressive taxes, don't plan on kicking back after graduation
Most students attend college to acquire skills and knowledge that will better enable them to provide for themselves and their children in the future. For that benefit, students pay a very high price. Where state colleges once offered undergraduate education to qualified students at little or no cost, today's students at public colleges typically pay tuition and fees that once would have paid for an Ivy League education. Even these very high costs are not enough. Taxpayers, whether or not they have themselves attended college are expected to supplement high tuition payments with tax dollars.
But, when all is said and done, don't most students leave college well equipped to take care of their own needs and to make significant contributions to the economy? Well, not really.
Much of what a student learns today will have less value in ten or fifteen years. In a few decades, it will have little value at all. A student trained long ago in art or graphic design may still know how to draw, but the tools now used did not even exist twenty-five years ago. Just in the last five years many of those tools have changed significantly. Journalists who, as recently as 1990, trained at top journalism schools such as the University of Missouri need new skills to remain competitive.
College administrators spend their time and energy focusing on their own bottom line. Not surprisingly administrators receive significantly higher remuneration than most college professors.If funds are short, rather than reduce administrative perks, teaching staff can be reduced. Courses can be cut even when the courses are essential parts of training for a given major. Those whose needs and wants come last are students, faculty, and taxpayers.
A few years ago, the trustees of the Vermont State College system established a policy that directly addressed the long-term needs of both students and taxpayers. Policy 417 established a tuition waiver for Vermonters who reached the age of 65 and a 50% discount that kicked in at age 62. This was an excellent first step. It meant that older Vermonters whose skills were no longer up-to-date could attend classes with no charge other than books and lab fees. It provided an alternative to spending the so-called Golden Years as a Wal-Mart greeter @ $10 an hour. The cost to the taxpayer was zero since Policy 417 specifically restricted older students to otherwise empty slots in existing classes. It meant that today's students were promised an opportunity to update their skills at little cost late in life.
But it was only a first step. The 50% discount at age 62 would make more sense if it were rolled back to age 42. When today's students reach that age, most could benefit from a program that allowed them to increase their value in the job market. This would not only benefit many Vermonters in their middle years, but would help the colleges financially by filling otherwise empty seats with students who were highly motivated and, even at the discounted rate, adding substantially to the college bottom line. Then there are taxpaying Vermonters who, while supporting the system, have, for one reason or another, never been able to benefit from it. Perhaps they started a family in their teens, or maybe they only learned the value of education through bitter experience on the job.
Wouldn't it be great if lives could be turned around so easily? Not by charity, but by hard work on the part of mature, older students. Think of the economy of the state, especially the economy of the perennially depressed Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. Imagine the economic benefit of a growing number of well-educated, mature men and women ready to roll up their sleeves and get to work.
Incredibly all this seems to have escaped the notice of the trustees of the Vermont State College. Instead of extending the program, they have acted to destroy it. Discounts remain unavailable until age 62 and the program has been limited to two classes per semester. Apparently the trustees did not do their arithmetic. A 65-year old Vermonter who desired to update their professional or occupational skills at the rate of two classes a semester would be about 75 years old on completion of a full program.
Maybe the trustees were led to believe that 65-year-old Vermonters no longer needed to work. Perhaps they were told that the program was only to fill a few hours for senior citizens until they had the decency to either pass away or move into an old age home.
So the trustees in their infinite wisdom cut one program that cost the colleges nothing, cut another that had the potential to generate income for the colleges, and now, just a few weeks later, decided to put the squeeze on students and taxpayers once more.

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