On April 22, 2020

Something to write home about

By Sen. Dick McCormack

Closing state colleges? This issue is still in play, and what I write on April 18 may be outdated by press time. But the basic frame of the discussion is likely to persist. If we approach the question as pure book keeping, as supply and demand analysis, a case can be made for closing three state colleges. Enrollment is off, expenses outstrip funding, the taxpayers are unwilling to pay more than they already pay.

But on the other hand, an economic case can be made for keeping colleges open. Closing would cause unemployment, undermine local businesses, remove an incentive for young people to come to Vermont and spend their flatland dollars, and remove an incentive for young Vermonters to get their educations, and pay their tuition here. These state colleges allow local students to commute, for many the only economically viable way to go to college.

Johnson, Lyndon, and VTC are essential parts of their communities. They’re local resources; meeting places, artistic and intellectual venues. In many ways closing these institutions could hollow these communities out.

But the question is more than economic. Education is a social function. A people educate its young. People who run naked through the woods, hunting their food with sharp sticks, teach the next generation how to run naked through the woods and hunt food with sharp sticks. Of course, the hunting with sticks analogy is strained in America in 2020- computers, complex science,  complex everything, but the principle remains.

And education is more than job training. We’re a republic, and we need citizens educated in our founding and defining institutions. We are inheritors of thousands of years of civilization, and we owe it to future generations to pass that heritage on. Maintaining a society is often a financial loser.

That’s the easy part. Saving our state colleges will cost money. The state raises money through taxes. People don’t like taxes. Many things have changed over my years in the Senate. But the single most constant message from the people, year in and year out, has been this: “Taxes are too high!” “You idiots in Montpelier are driving people out of state with your out of control spending!” If we want to keep our state colleges open we must embrace the whole picture, (1) do it, (2) pay for it, and (3) raise the taxes necessary to pay for it.

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