Jack TenneyExtra Point

by Jack Tenney, Publisher

July 2004

Congratulations to all my friends at VSC!

When a friend of mine told his father he'd decided to major in philosophy, his father asked, "Can't you pick something more practical? You can always think nights and weekends."

Seemed a fair question, and one that has been rephrased a number of ways at colleges and universities as the world has entered the information age: Is it possible to train learners? Does computer programming belong in the languages department? Should engineering students be required to take a core curriculum including history and arts? What's the difference between an accountant with a liberal arts degree and an MBA, and an accountant with a bachelor of science degree with an accounting major? How do you get an English professor with a Ph.D. to teach remedial grammar courses to classes of freshmen with SAT scores less than 1,000?

And the students asked: "Is this going to be on the test? Do I need to know this to get a job?"

If you define successful higher education institutions as ones with growing enrollments, enhanced physical plants, diverse faculties and supportive alumni, you will find a collaboration of practical people who think days, nights and weekends to come up with answers to all those questions and more.

In Vermont, higher education is flourishing. There are many examples to support that claim. The one I find most persuasive is the 2000-2004 Progress Report from the Vermont State Colleges (VSC) titled "Redesigning Higher Education for a Changing World." In the '80s, I was a trustee there along with Mike Audet of Orwell, who is now the board chairman. Bob Clarke, the chancellor, was then president of Vermont Technical College, and David Wolk, Castleton State College president, was a trustee. Business People has profiled many of the VSC folks over the years, including former Chancellor Chuck Bunting, Johnson State College President Barbara Murphy and Bob Clarke ... so maybe I'm a little prejudiced.

Be that as it may, the report chronicles how, at least in this Vermont institution, you can get there from here. After being whipped 'round pretty good throughout the '90s by low state funding, with the colleges operating on "razor-thin budgets and students paying some of the highest public tuition costs in the country, VSC enrollments were declining." A new strategic plan was crafted and adopted by the college presidents and the trustees in 1999 to reflect the reality that state funding no longer adequately supported five separate institutions. In the report, under a call-out titled "Measures of Success," the following points are cited as evidence that the strategy is paying off.

"Head-count enrollment has grown by 19 percent from 9,896 in fall 2000 to 11,687 in fall 2003. The colleges have expanded from 50 statewide locations to more than 60 locations. Distance learning has boomed, from 100 online courses in 2000 to 366 online courses today. Full-time equivalent enrollments have grown 22 percent, while the number of VSC employees has grown a modest 5 percent."

Congratulations to all my friends at VSC! To get your copy of the report call 241-2520 in Waterbury.