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Schubart: College Systems

04/30/12 5:55PM By Bill Schubart
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(Host) From his home in Hinesburg, writer and commentator Bill Schubart observes it's easy to talk about how things should be - especially since it's not within his ability or authority to make them so.

(Schubart) In this era of escalating and unaffordable college costs, if I were Vermont's education Tsar I would create a unified Vermont State College system under UVM, ending any duplicative expense or competition between our six institutions and implementing the cost-efficiency of a single administration for non-academic affairs like purchasing, maintenance, accounting, and admissions. I would honor existing tenure commitments but abolish the practice going forward, at least as we know it.

A state of 600,000 people with a $5 billion budget, of which only half is paid for by Vermont taxpayers, simply can't afford to support five state colleges and the university even with out-of-state tuitions. The system itself and its undergraduates are sinking under the weight of costs.

I would convene the academic leadership of Castleton, Johnson, Lyndon, Vermont Tech, Community College of Vermont and UVM to meet and clarify their unique academic expertise and mission.

UVM would focus on three things: providing the best undergraduate liberal arts education in its class, expanding its nationally respected College of Medicine, and growing its research capabilities. VT Technical College would focus on its established areas of expertise: technical, practical and applied education in technology, applied sciences and food systems. VT Tech would inherit the remnants of UVM's once vital role in agriculture including the Extension Service. Castleton, Johnson and Lyndon would work together to establish centers of undergraduate excellence for each campus such as: the arts, communications, and humanities. Local faculties would be vested with equal authority to enrich and develop curricula within their area of excellence. Think President Fogel's "Spires of Excellence" but throughout the state system.

The Association of Vermont Independent Colleges know as "AVIC" is adopting the "Five College System" model in Massachusetts. This will allow matriculated students in any of their 19 Vermont colleges to take and get credit for any course or semester in any of the other 18 colleges. This should be true with the State College system as well and would include faculty exchanges and joint seminars on important topics.

Any student in the system could take courses or semesters at any other campus. This would free the student to craft a college education that would make the best of what Vermont has to offer. In time, the private and public college systems might decide to cooperate with one another in similar fashion.

Free marketers will carry on about the value of competition, but whereas consumers can choose where to shop, students do not always get to choose their college.

In the case of State colleges, Vermonters would be better served by strategic collaboration than free-market competition in our taxpayer-funded institutions of higher learning.

As to the enduring myth of local control, I do see great value in keeping our elementary and middle schools local. I see reasons to consolidate regionally some of our high schools. But to better manage costs and focus limited resources, our state college system must unify, streamline, specialize and collaborate to succeed.

Correction: The text of this commentary was revised to correct that there are five state colleges. Community College of Vermont was originally omitted.

 

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