University of Vermont

Vermont Quarterly

President's Perspective

President Tom Sullivan
Photograph by Sally McCay


Since the beginning of my tenure as president, affordability and access to success for all qualified students has been my foremost priority at the University of Vermont. This year we had a historically low tuition increase of 2.9 percent and a zero increase for Vermont students. We will continue to make every effort to control tuition increases. Our upcoming Comprehensive Campaign will focus on increased academic support, especially scholarships. Already 44 percent of Vermont students attend tuition free at UVM. As a land-grant university, a central part of our mission is to provide first-rate educational opportunities in the State of Vermont and to make a significant contribution to the state’s economic development through our research and academic programs. Of course, increasing access to college education is a national priority as well. We cannot compete with other nations if we do not offer college opportunities that will lead to successful outcomes for all qualified students. As a nation, we must increase not only the number of high school graduates attending college, but also the number of students successfully graduating from college in four years.

On Thursday, January 16, 2014, I was pleased to represent the University of Vermont at the White House Education Summit hosted by President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. More than eighty college and university presidents and leaders from forty non-profit and philanthropic organizations were invited to focus on strategies to increase the number of low-income students who apply to, attend, and graduate from college. We heard passionate statements from both the President and First Lady about the importance of expanding college access and ensuring successful completion, especially to low-income students. 

This White House Summit was more than an exchange of ideas. It was an inspiring national call to action: each participating institution made a commitment to expand college access; the pledges included a wide range of practices and programs relating to admissions, advising, community outreach, college preparation, and helping academically underprepared students complete their degrees. To join in President Obama’s call to action, UVM has committed, through our New Americans Program, to significantly increase the enrollment of students from immigrant families who have settled in Vermont. We have dedicated a high-level admissions expert to counsel families and to assist them in seeking aid, filling out forms, and completing the application process. The enrollment process will be free for low-income and first-generation New Americans. Additionally, we pledged to continue covering tuition costs without loans for all our Vermont Pell Grant-eligible students. At present, 22-25 percent of our students are Pell-eligible, including one third of our Vermont students.  Nearly 20 percent of our first-year class is comprised of first-generation students, including one third of our Vermont students.

We can take pride that UVM is a leader in providing affordable college access to students. Others have noted UVM’s leadership as well. Kiplinger’s magazine has once again ranked UVM among the top best value public colleges in the country noting our “high four-year graduation rate, low average student debt at graduation, abundant financial aid, low sticker price, and overall great value.” Of those students who take out loans, our students graduate with $8,000 less in debt than the national average. Other institutions aspire to these numbers. Our considerable increase in applications this year—nearly 24,000 and an increase of 9 percent from last year—demonstrates that we remain affordable while our reputation for quality grows.  Further, our applications from first-year international students have increased by 56 percent. We are committed to building success for our students by increasing financial access and successful graduation in four years. We know that by expanding access to college for qualified students at UVM and by ensuring their timely graduation, these alumni will be very successful throughout life. We must continue to raise our expectations and our aspirations for our students, because together we can move mountains.

—Tom Sullivan

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