- By Tom Weaver
The fall is always an exciting time on campus with the arrival of students and the full engagement of our academic programs. Our new first-year class is spectacular in so many ways. With a historic high of nearly 23,000 applications, we enrolled 2,495 first-year students. Undergraduate enrollment stands at 9,970, with total enrollment at 12,723. The University has never been more diverse with 14 percent of the first-year class being students of color; 18 percent of the class are first-generation college students; ten countries are represented among the new international students; and the Honors College has its highest first-year enrollment at 205 students.
As these students embark on this new chapter in their lives, it is with a considerable financial investment for many of them and their families—but it is likely one of the best investments they will ever make. A holder of a bachelor’s degree earns over the course of a lifetime, on average, more than $1 million more than those with a high school diploma, and those who hold advanced degrees beyond the bachelor’s earn nearly $3 million more. A Brookings Institution study found that the return on investment of a college degree is equivalent to more than 15 percent a year, more than double the average return of stock market investment. A recent Pew Charitable Trust report found that college graduates have the strongest employment advantage by a wide margin. More importantly, this investment in learning helps students shape the kind of goals they want to set for themselves, the kind of life they want to live, and the kind of people they want to be. As we know, one cannot measure, with precision, the personal and intellectual growth that comes from the college experience, in addition to the financial gains over a career of work.
Our new students join UVM at an opportune moment in this University’s 222-year history as one of America’s oldest and most unique institutions of higher education. The University is moving forward with momentum, creative energy, and pride. We have announced the planning of a new $100 million STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) laboratory facility, the largest building project in our history. It will be the center for teaching, learning, and research labs in engineering and mathematical sciences and in the physical sciences of chemistry and physics. This important new building will place UVM on the forefront of teaching and research in the STEM disciplines. Most importantly for Vermont, the facility will promote economic development in the state by encouraging breakthrough research and advancing new pedagogies for student learning in quantitative fields of study. The facility will permit our students to be highly competitive nationally in engineering and scientific fields.
Our enthusiasm for advancement in the teaching and research in STEM areas only helps us appreciate its importance to the core of UVM—our drive for excellence in liberal education, broadly defined, across the curriculum. Liberal education today integrates the great issues of the day with qualitative and quantitative analysis and reasoning while enhancing our understanding of the nature and meaning of life. It prepares our students for a life of understanding trends, uncertainties, ambiguities, cultures, and the complexities of the world. As the great public intellectual Louis Menand reminds us, from the theoretical to the useful, liberal education gives us a window on understanding the “analytical, empirical, moral, and aesthetic” issues we may confront. Our new STEM facility, with its unlimited potential to educate and expand our quantitative knowledge and skills, is especially important for giving our students and faculty a comparative advantage in this competitive world. By fully integrating liberal education and STEM learning, we have UVM advantages that can move mountains.