How NOT to attract young people to Vermont

Here’s a campaign issue that’s seemingly tailor-made for Phil Scott. But somehow I doubt that he’ll capitalize on it because, well, he doesn’t have any solutions to offer.

In a new, comprehensive study of college affordability across the country, Vermont finished a dismal 46th. It’s one of the least affordable places to go to college.

What’s even sadder is that just about every state is doing badly, and we’re doing worse than badly. This, according to the 2016 College Affordability Diagnosis just out from the University of Pennsylvania. Its nationwide findings:

— Every state has lost ground on college affordability since 2008.

— Financial aid doesn’t go as far as it used to, and most full-time students cannot make enough to work their way through college debt-free — even community college.

— Low- and middle-income families face significant barriers that limit their ability to invest in education.

This, despite the bounteous lip service paid by politicians to the importance of accessible higher education.

That’s the national picture. Vermont’s is even worse.

And we ought to be worried, researcher Joni Finney told the Times Argus:

“Vermont needs to be concerned, because its young population is declining. And so one of the questions is, how is Vermont going to address workforce needs? Sixty-five percent of the jobs in Vermont require post-secondary education by 2020.”

So, even if our economy continues to grow, where will the educated workers come from? And here’s more bad news:

“Your public two-year institutions — those institutions are often thought of as the safety net of higher education — rank 48th in the country,” Finney said. “So low-income students are really forced, with pretty poor choices, to go to post-secondary education and either work full-time and try to go part-time — which puts you at a greater risk of dropping out — or borrowing a lot of money.”

Which means it’s extremely difficult for young working-class people to attain a more prosperous future. And why are our institutions so unaffordable? Take a guess.

The state regularly ranks near the bottom nationally for state funding, per-student, of public higher education, its public higher education system is among the most tuition-dependent in the country, and the state’s college going rates are also among the lowest in the country.

Okay, Phil. You’re constantly talking about Vermont’s affordability problem — and about our looking demographic crisis, with an aging population and not enough young people in their prime working years. The cost of higher education is right at the crossroads of those two issues. Vermont clearly has a problem. So, Phil, what are you going to do about it?

I don’t know what he can offer beyond his usual bland platitudes. He’s promising to hold the line on the budget, so no meaningful increases for our criminally underfunded colleges and universities. Tax cuts (even if he could make them happen) won’t help students who aren’t in the workforce yet.

Meanwhile, inaccessible education is constricting our economic future. We don’t have enough educated workers already, and it’s going to get worse if we con’t do something about it.

As we have previously discussed, our demographic crisis is NOT a matter of young people fleeing Vermont. Young people are highly mobile; while a lot do leave Vermont, just about as many move in. It’s basically a wash.

The cause of the demographic crisis is our chronically low birth rate. For more than a generation, Vermonters haven’t been having enough kids to replenish the population. Unless we can successfully incentivize big families, which I doubt*, we have to draw more young people to Vermont.

*The best thing we could do is to guarantee paid parental leave. In an age of two-income households, the lack of paid leave is a powerful disincentive to having children. 

The best way to get people to live in Vermont is to expose them to our state’s numerous charms. The best way to do that is to make higher education more accessible.

Unfortunately, we’re really bad at that. We need to find a way to make it better. Any ideas from the five gubernatorial candidates would be most welcome. But given the extent of the problem, they’d better be great big ideas. No more incrementalism.

10 thoughts on “How NOT to attract young people to Vermont

  1. nortryder

    Maybe he should chime in on the F-35s. I heart jet noise! Woo hoo! !.45 trillion$ and growing every second. That would pay some hefty tuition. Talk about your fucked-up priorities!

  2. David R Hall

    College separate from work is not scalable to all

    In the NewVistas community system education is combined with continuous work and so paid for as you go instead of a full time away from home expensive journey.

    We need to face the fact that our current higher education approach assumed that only a few would go and that those who did were literally Ivy League and rich.

    We cannot extend this plan to all.

    1. katrinkavt

      A New Vistas community offer choices of the equivalent of drone, worker or supervisor (enforcer?) No college for you, ants. You will conform to the will of the colony. You Will have one man or one woman oversee your sub-pod. You will surrender your monetary and intellectual assets to the hive.

      The more you delve into the New Vista website, the more you learn what the an ultimate antithesis of Vermont would look like. Check it out…it is an unwieldy site but after poking around you will be rewarded by a futuristic community where one might never need to venture outside. Oh, and another feature is that each of these communities would have big-box stores within them. No kidding; you couldn’t dream up a design more repellant to the culture this state has revered during any century.

  3. Doug Hoffer

    I agree with the need for and value of increased support for higher education. However, I take issue with the quote from UPenn professor Joni Finney that “Sixty-five percent of the jobs in Vermont require post-secondary education by 2020.”

    According to the VT Dept. of Labor’s Occupational Projections, only 32% of projected annual job openings will require post-secondary education by 2022. Here are the figures.

    31.6% 3,437 Less than high school
    36.3% 3,943 High school diploma or equivalent
    1.6% 177 Some college, no degree
    5.3% 575 Postsecondary non-degree award
    1.9% 201 Associate’s degree
    18.3% 1,989 Bachelor’s degree
    2.3% 254 Master’s degree
    2.6% 287 Doctoral or professional degree

    These include jobs due to growth and net replacement.
    So in addition to the challenge of making college affordable for all who want it, we are faced with an economy where two-thirds of the jobs don’t require post-secondary education. And we know what that means for wages.

    1. Dave Katz

      Somehow the pulled-up ladder image keeps reforming in my mind’s eye. Who exactly is it, you brainiac advanced-degree people, who are in a position to most influence a state’s employment outcomes, hmmmmm? Morlocks and Elois seem to suit our state’s elites just fine, I’d say–by their actions shall ye know them.

  4. H. Brooke Paige

    Education – Our most important investment in the future.

    Here is the uninvited opinion from the first candidate to announce their gubernatorial intentions (and the first to file their petition).

    First and foremost, the problem of educating our young folks to lead productive lives begins long before they are finished with their high school education. High school graduates today, unlike those of 20 or 30 years ago, receive their degrees without having obtained the “marketable” skills necessary to enter the workforce. Many employers, aware of this problem, provide on-the-job training to get promising new hires up-to-speed.- however many employers do not have the resources to do so,

    Sadly, the societal mindset focuses on the necessity of “higher education” in order to lead a productive life. This focus is almost exclusively on obtaining a four year college degree rather than the more cost effective (and most often equally productive) trade school or community college degree. Lord knows we have plenty of folks graduating with liberal arts degrees and many of those who do so quickly, realize that their degree is of little value in the marketplace. These folks find it to be necessary to abandon the field they have trained for and accept employment that they are less than ideally trained for.

    While I do not have all the answers here, I don’t think anyone does, one thing I am certain of is that public sector and private sector resources should be targeted toward encouraging those who are seeking a higher education to choose fields of study that are not only “of interest” to them but will also result in their obtaining skills that are in demand in the marketplace. Studying Political Science or Native American Basket Weaving may be intriguing courses of study to some – however it is, most probably, far wiser to graduate with a degree in medicine, chemistry, electronics, biology or a host of other subjects; at least from a financial rewards outcome basis.

    Likewise, our institutes of higher education should be incentivized to concentrate on subject matter that that represent productive results for their students and for society. Certainly Ancient History, Literature, Art and the Social Sciences are an important part of a well rounded education (as they also should be in a student’s primary and secondary education) however failing to direct students to develop skills that will serve them, while at the same time charging princely sums in tuition, is little more than fraud and legal theft.

    Bottom-line, yes the state (and the private sector) should provide our institutes of higher learning with increased funding; however we should expect a higher level of accountability in return for the increased investment. Beyond increased funding, low interest student loans targeted for those with actual financial needs who are seeking degrees (and skills) that are currently needed in the marketplace. It is pointless to facilitate folks to spend years of effort seeking an education and a degree that will be of little use in finding a financially rewarding career.

    I will end where I began, the most important investment is in assuring that our young folks are provided with a useful primary and secondary education – students should expect to be graduate from high school with a knowledge set sufficient for them to find productive careers AND to be productive, informed individuals, able to contribute to and shape our state and nation.

    H. Brooke Paige

  5. Macy Franklin

    Please the lot of you take your collective heads out of your asses (and in Paige’s case, how you get it in there with your ridiculous top hat on is a wonder in itself). Keeping Vermont kids here is not about higher education, it’s about careers beyond waiting on tables or loading lifts. As long as Montpelier continues it’s anti-business-high tax demeanor we will continue our decline. Wait ’til these clueless ideologues pass the carbon tax and then watch all the generations disappear. Last one out please turn off the lights – renewable only electricity is wicked expensive.

    1. John S. Walters Post author

      Like I said, our demographic problem is provably NOT a matter of young people leaving Vermont. Many do, but just as many move here. The reality is that our birthrate has been too low for a long time, which means we are not replenishing our population. This is why Vermont is getting older. But hey, you’ve got your right-wing rhetoric and it’s good enough for you.

  6. Dennis Shanley

    Perhaps our slogan should be, “Just south of a great and affordable college education”.


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