Vt. colleges get creative to attract students

By  | 

JOHNSON, Vt. (WCAX) There's a new world of options for Jordan Niles.

"I had always wanted to study abroad ever since the beginning of high school," Niles said.

Thanks to a new program at Johnson State College, the sophomore is looking forward to studying abroad.

"It's going to offer students the ability to study abroad for a semester or a year and pay virtually the same price as they pay while they're here at Johnson," said Sara Kinerson, the director of advising at Johnson State College.

It's a new recruiting tool for Johnson State, which, like other Vermont schools, has seen a decline in students.

"As a system, our enrollment is down close to 10 percent compared to where it was a number of years ago," Vermont State Colleges Chancellor Jeb Spaulding said.

Spaulding said it's a trend in New England trend and not just a Vermont phenomenon.

"Really, the world we're facing, Ike, is that there is a declining number of high school students. That means that there are fewer students graduating from high school and going on to college," he said.

With fewer students, schools have to be more competitive.

"In today's day and age, every college and university is going to have to have a way to set itself apart, to have a unique brand that says this is what I can expect there," Spaulding said.

Johnson State is banking on this study abroad program. Down at Castleton University, they're counting on free skiing to encourage students to choose their campus.

Spaulding says the schools already have distinguished programs but they need to keep giving students reasons to choose them over someone else.

"In a very competitive world, we need to make sure that we're ahead of the pack. And I know we're going to be successful doing that," he said.

We know one of the main factors in a student's decision on where to go to school is the cost. New York state schools have cut tuition costs and Spaulding says that has hurt Vermont schools' ability to be competitive.

Another factor is the teachers. So colleges are trying to make sure top teachers choose to work here.

Spaulding says sometimes it's all in a name. He says Castleton's recent switch from Castleton College to Castleton University and Lyndon and Johnson state colleges planned merger to northwestern Vermont University have garnered more interest from prospective teachers.

"We are finding that faculty kind of gravitate toward a university in many instances, so that's one thing that will give us a more robust pool of faculty applicants," Spaulding said.

Spaulding says there are advantages for teachers in the Vermont State Colleges system like the one-on-one interaction they get with students in smaller class sizes. That, in addition to their programs, which he say also give their schools a competitive advantage.