Protesters opposing VSC campus closures swarm to Montpelier

Published: Apr. 20, 2020 at 4:53 PM EDT
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Will three Vermont State Colleges close their doors for good? A scheduled vote on the proposal did not happen Monday, but the conversation continues on what to do with the college system that has been hemorrhaging money.

Vermont Technical College would normally be bustling with students this week their end-of-semester projects. But the Randolph Center campus is closed because of the coronavirus, and soon may never reopen.

Only about 4,500 people live in the Randolph area and many of them are worried about the future of Vermont Tech. "It would be devastating," said William McLaren, a local resident.

"I think it would be really devastating," said Chandler Vellanca.

Many, like Lisa Jacobs of Braintree, are families who could be left in the lurch. "As a parent of a recently accepted VTC student, we are scrambling, we are panicked," she said.

It's part of a plan unveiled Friday to close Vermont Tech, as well as Northern Vermont University's Johnson and Lyndon campuses.

The news sent hundreds of drivers to Montpelier Monday morning, honking their horns and shouting as part of a social distance protest. Cars paraded by the Statehouse to support keeping the three schools open.

VSC Chancellor Jeb Spaulding points to an already declining enrollment, plus a finical hit from the coronavirus of around $10 million to a system that is already hurting financially. He says the announcement gives students and staff enough time relocate if needed.

"This is basically an insane proposal that doesn't take into account the actual economic realities and efficiencies of our colleges," said Ben Luce, an NVU professor.

"We want a state that's going to grow, and it's not going to happen if we shut down these institutions," said Michalea Stone, another NVU professor.

A big issue for protesters Monday is what they say is the little amount of state funding the schools get to begin with. "Forty years of under funding has gotten us to this place. There is no way out of it without changing that funding," said Allison Cornwell, a VTC professor.

Vermont Senate President Tim Ashe, D/P-Chittenden County, says says he knows the economic impact these schools have in their communities. "Now we are in the position of facing reality -- that is that they are in a bad place," he said.

And when it comes to the budget, Ashe says the state has been giving money to the schools and right now there is not much more to give. "The increases that have been provided to the state college system for the last few years -- they might say it's not enough but it's been pretty excruciating to squeeze out those dollars," he said.

Governor Phil Scott echoed that message Monday, saying the state is in financial straits too.

At Monday's VSC Board of Trustees meeting, Spaulding acknowledged the thousands of emails he received over the weekend opposed to his plan.

Although the board took no vote on Monday, there is another meeting scheduled for next week.

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