BENNINGTON — Tuition will remain frozen at the four colleges of the Vermont State College System for a second straight academic year under a $184.3 million budget approved by its board of trustees Thursday.
It will also allow the system’s nursing programs to consolidate at Bennington – the four-year bachelor’s degrees in nursing offered by Castleton University and a two-year associate’s program through Vermont Tech.
The spending plan, bolstered by increased funding from the state government, will maintain tuition levels at Community College of Vermont locations in Bennington and Brattleboro, as well as Castleton University, Northern University Vermont and Vermont Tech. It also continues to fund the Bennington-based nursing programs administered by Castleton and Vermont Tech.
“Maintaining the level of tuition fees for the second consecutive year has a direct impact on the results of our students, particularly in this period of rising costs due to inflation and the ongoing economic turbulence,” said the Chancellor Sophie Zdatny in a statement. “It is essential that our commitment to affordability is reflected in our actions and our words, and I am pleased that our budget supports our students in this important way.
In addition to a tuition freeze, the fiscal year 2023 VSCS budget will allow Vermont Tech and Castleton to consolidate their Bennington-based nursing education classrooms at 105 Union St., before Castleton, Vermont Tech and Northern Vermont University are merged into a single accredited one. institution, Vermont State University, effective July 1, 2023. (CCV will remain a separate entity.)
Vermont Tech offers an associate degree program in nursing and an online bachelor’s degree program. Castleton has a bachelor’s degree program, which integrated into Southern Vermont College’s curriculum after SVC closed in 2019.
Lisa Fox, associate dean of Vermont Tech’s nursing program, said the move is positive for the two programs, which will be integrated starting next fall.
“I’m really excited about this,” Fox said. “It provides many opportunities for our faculty, students and staff to learn from each other.”
“We have an RN in the online bachelor of science nursing program, but that would allow our students to work together in simulations and in the lab to learn from each other,” Fox said. “So it’s very exciting.”
Fox said demand for the program, in Bennington and statewide, remains high, in part due to tuition reimbursement incentives offered by the state’s “essential occupations” grant program.
“Our incoming class is bigger,” Fox said. “Since last year securing Critical Professions Grants, our numbers have increased significantly. Overall, we probably saw a 10-15% increase, which is huge for us.
“Next year we will have added seats across the state in several areas,” she added. “And registrations for the Bennington area are also expected to arrive in the fall.”
Vermont Tech awarded 149 associate nursing degrees in May and is expected to graduate 142 licensed practical nurses on Saturday
Fox said Southwestern Vermont Medical Center and Rutland Regional Medical Center have been great partners, not only in providing post-graduation placement, but also in assisting with the program and the education.
That help included “keeping us in hospitals to do hands-on learning during COVID and assisting clinical instructors as needed,” Fox said. “They give jobs to our students afterward – so we can’t say enough about how wonderful they are.”
For SVMC, collaboration with nursing programs has helped maintain staffing levels, as well as continue the success of its nationally recognized nursing program.
“Castleton and Vermont Tech have for many years been major sources of well-trained nurses for Southwestern Vermont Medical Center,” said Chief Medical Officer Dr. Trey Dobson. “We hope the funds allocated to workforce development will maintain and expand these critically important partnerships.”
Funding for the state college system comes from the general fund, as well as a capital bill of $143.7 million and a workforce development bill of $84.5 million. dollars incorporating federal COVID relief funds. These dollars, in addition to a $10 million increase in annual funding and a one-time $14.9 million appropriation to fill the system’s structural budget shortfall, bring the state’s share of the budget to system running at 25%.
Before COVID, the state’s share of the operating budget was 17%, leading to higher tuition and fees to cover the difference — and threats of campus closures when enrollment plunged during the pandemic .
The workforce development bill also includes emergency grants to support faculty and nursing staff over the next three years, as well as incentive grants, forgivable student loans in nursing who intend to work in Vermont nursing facilities and loan repayments for nursing faculty.
“This funding to help both our students and employees is remarkable and we anticipate many will benefit from these scholarships and grants,” said Katherine Lavasseur, director of external and government affairs for the state college system, on Friday.