VSC Board of Trustees Discuss Issues Faced by COVID-19 Pandemic

VERMONT -  On Saturday, April 11th, the Vermont State College Board of Trustees met online via Zoom Conference to work towards a recommendation that will be presented to trustees for their next meeting, Monday April 20th.

What they are hoping to present, according to chancellor Jeb Spaulding, are their options regarding employee contracts as well as confidential information that is protected under the open meeting law for the executive sessions. On Saturday, the only items on the agenda for the meeting were when to make a motion to move into and out of executive session. After prefacing the meeting by commending the board and the faculty members of the Vermont State College system on the great work they’ve done in such a fast moving and troubling time, Spaulding presented information on the immediate financial impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the VSC system, as well as the enrollment problems and possible solutions that will follow in the future. This was the third Trustee meeting since the decision to send Vermont State College students home on March 12th. 

The greatest immediate financial loss for the Vermont State College system this academic year were the refunds for room and board costs which were projected at just over five and a half million dollars. The federal relief coming to the Vermont State Colleges will provide six million dollars, but of that portion, three million must go to emergency grants for students in need and as instructed, the federal funds can not be used to cover the refunding of room and board for students. According to Spaulding, in attempts to cut costs for the system they have eliminated four positions as well as enforced a hiring and spending freeze for anything non essential. 

Decreased numbers in enrollment has been an issue for the VSC system even before the COVID-19 outbreak. Traditional students are ones who graduate high school and attend college the following school year, but what is happening in the VSC system is a rise in non-traditional students. In Vermont public schools, according to Spaulding, there has been a 25% decrease in the number of seniors in high school. “I don’t think the future of Vermont State Colleges is one hundred percent online, that’s for sure. But I do think as we are gonna serve more non-traditional students that a robust online component will be an important part,” said Spaulding. “The challenges aren’t new, but the intensity of the challenges are immense.” Regarding the post COVID-19 world, Spaulding also introduced the idea of “Pricing Pressure”, an idea circulating in all institutions of higher education. This is the idea that lowering the price of enrollment in the future will entice borderline students who are skeptical to enroll because of the hefty financial burden.

No actions were taken after the board concluded their executive session.