It seems that every year, at their May meeting, members of the University of Vermont Board of Trustees talk about how the university’s current funding model is “unsustainable.”
Friday was no exception, as the trustees gave preliminary approval to another tuition increase (3.5 percent), and to an annual budget that increases financial aid by an even larger proportion (6.5 percent). UVM draws about two-thirds of its revenue from tuition, while state support remains flat.
The model still might be “unsustainable” — continually rising tuition eventually could price UVM and other institutions out of the market, trustees fear — but it’s not something they have to do anything about just now, and their anxiety is a bit less pressing than in past years. That’s because the next tuition hike is relatively low, two percentiles below UVM’s recent annual average. And the budget for the next fiscal year, $299 million, is going up just 2.4 percent.
In the absence of immediate fiscal strains, UVM’s leaders had the luxury Friday of celebrating the year’s accomplishments, on one hand, and publicly ruminating on the big changes that might befall UVM, and higher education generally, on the other.
Among the accomplishments were prestigious national scholarships earned by students. Among the changes are those that will come with the growth of free online education. The long-term impact on residential colleges such as UVM of Massive Open Online Courses — like those announced recently by Harvard and MIT — are unclear.