Vermont colleges bucking national enrollment trends

Published: Aug. 24, 2022 at 10:29 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Research shows college enrollment around the country is dropping, but schools in Vermont say they’ve been seeing the opposite.

Some administrators say it’s the low cost and others say it’s a result of how the pandemic has been managed. This year, the University of Vermont is welcoming its largest classes, with roughly 3,000 students.

“It’s the largest, most diverse, and academically qualified class in university history,” said Jay Jacobs, UVM vice provost of enrollment management.

According to statistics from the National Center for Education, college enrollment around the country has been dropping since 2009. Meanwhile, incoming classes at Vermont colleges and universities are hitting record numbers. Jacobs says they reviewed more than 30,000 applications for the incoming class of 2026, a new university record. “The average incoming student has a 3.8 GPA out of 4.0 and the highest SAT and ACT scores in university history,” Jacobs said.

At Middlebury College, a much smaller private college, they’ll be welcoming 640 new students on Labor Day, which is considered a full campus. “We’re thrilled to say Middlebury continues with a strong liberal arts and sciences curriculum and we’re proud to be supporting students from wherever they’re joining us from,” said Nicole Curvin Middlebury’s dean of admissions.

At Norwich University, their incoming class is about 5% smaller than last year, but the class of 2026 is still expected to be one of their largest, with a few students opting to start during the spring semester. “I’m smiling so big because I’m so excited to have students back,” said Norwich University president Mark Anarumo. “The environment on campus is positive and vibrant. It’s the first time in four years we haven’t had the impact of COVID on campus.”

All of the colleges we spoke to say Vermont’s handling of COVID and unique college programming is what is drawing students to the Green Mountain State. While enrollment is back up and campuses are going mask-free, the learning impacts of COVID among incoming students are starting to become more apparent.

“We have a category of classes called Gateway Courses,” said Anarumo. “Those are math and science classes you take at a foundational level. Those are courses we’ve found students to not be prepared for, so we’re really building systems to support students in those.”

Middlebury College says they haven’t made any changes to accommodate the COVID learning curve but are there to support students as best as possible. “The pandemic is not a roadblock and there are opportunities for students to attend college here in Vermont or outside of the state as well,” Curvin said.

Administrators say only small percentages of their incoming classes are graduates of Vermont high schools. They say there are fewer graduating seniors and less interest in continuing education than in surrounding states.