University of Vermont

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Historically Low Tuition Increase, Gen Ed Milestone, STEM Complex Headline May Board Meeting

May trustees meeting
President Sullivan addresses the UVM Board of Trustees at its May 2013 meeting. (Photo: Sally McCay)

At its May 2013 meeting, UVM’s Board of Trustees approved the lowest tuition increase in 36 years, put in place the first component of an ambitious General Education initiative, and adjusted the university’s debt limit policy to accommodate the potential construction of proposed new and renovated facilities in science, technology, mathematics and engineering (STEM). 

Trustees approved a 2.9 percent increase in tuition, the lowest since 1977. The increase brings in-state tuition to $13,728 and out-of-state tuition to $34,656 for the 2013-2014 academic year.

Further lowering the real cost of tuition for Vermonters, UVM president Tom Sullivan announced that all of this year's $1.2 million increase over last year’s state appropriation will be used to create scholarships for in-state students, fully offsetting the rise in their tuition.

Trustees also approved a 2.9 percent increase in room rates, an average 4.2 percent increase in meals, and 2.6 percent increase in student fees, bringing an increase of 3 percent in the overall cost of attendance. 

A vote to approve the general fund budget of approximately $300 million was deferred until early June, when more up-to-date data is available on the incoming class and how much financial aid will be needed by the approximately 2,400 first-year students.

A milestone for Gen Ed

Major progress on UVM's General Education initiative was announced in the Educational Policy and Institutional Resources (EPIR) committee, leading to a resolution passed by the full board to approve a three-credit foundational writing and informational literacy requirement for all first-year, first-time students, beginning in fall 2014.

A writing and information literacy framework that was successfully piloted in eight courses last year served as the basis for the new requirement, the first of six proposed learning outcomes in the Faculty Senate’s Gen Ed initiative to be implemented. The General Education committee believes the process used can serve as a model for the development of proposals for the other learning outcomes and will facilitate and speed their implementation. 

While writing requirements for first-year students are not unusual, UVM is distinctive and innovative in linking writing to information literacy and in teaching students to access, critically evaluate and ethically use print and digital research sources.

A pilot is underway to develop and assess writing and information literacy skills throughout the remaining undergraduate years. Faculty development workshops are underway to help incorporate and evaluate writing within  the academic disciplines.

A revised debt ratio and a new STEM complex

UVM’s debt ratio – the proportion of the university’s annual debt service payments relative to annual expenses – also came up for discussion. Because of earlier board action, the current ratio of 6 percent was scheduled to be reduced to 5 percent in 2017. Administrators proposed lowering the current ratio to 5.75 percent and rescheduling the reduction to 5 percent for 2023.

The change, which the board passed on Saturday, gives the university the flexibility to borrow as much as $125 million for the bonding of future capital projects, if funds are made available to pay the additional debt service.    

In anticipation of the debt ratio discussion, the board had asked for an example of how the university would use its extra debt capacity.

President Sullivan and Robert Vaughan, director of capital planning and management, presented a conceptual plan for a $100 million phased overhaul of the university’s current STEM facilities, one of the top priorities in the Strategic Action Plan the president issued in November 2012.               

In Phase I of the plan, the Angell Lecture Hall would be demolished and replaced with a 112,000 square foot, $53 million building that would house laboratories for chemistry, physics, and psychology, as well as general purpose classrooms and utility space.

Phase II would focus on the Cook Physical Science Building. Once the Phase I building was completed, all the occupants of Cook would be moved into it, and Cook would be totally renovated at a cost of $37 million. The renovated Cook would serve the non-laboratory needs of the STEM program, housing classrooms and administrative offices. Once both phases were complete, faculty and staff would be redistributed between the two buildings. 

Phase III would be a $9 million renovation of Votey Hall that would address both deferred maintenance and incorporate upgrades. The new building would house teaching and research labs and general purpose classrooms.

The overall plan would also consolidate the Department of Mathematics, now housed in three buildings on Colchester Avenue.

Vaughan estimated that the project would take five years to complete. The university will present more detailed programming for each building, which could include conceptual diagrams, at the October board meeting.

In other developments

Vice President for Student and Campus Life Tom Gustafson initiated an engaged discussion in the Educational Policy and Institutional Resources committee on the new Career Success Action Plan, noting that President Sullivan “raised expectations for less talking and more action.” Abu Rizvi, dean of the Honors College, spearheaded the development of the plan, working closely with Pamela Gardner, director of Career Services, and constituencies from the SGA and graduate student senate to alumni and parents. He and his colleagues also visited a number of universities to review best practices.

Rizvi identified five key components of the plan for EPIR committee members:

  • Internships, employment and other experiential learning opportunities are critical;
  • Employers, alumni, parents and other stakeholders are needed to build a culture of career success;
  • Students must be engaged in career preparation throughout their college education;
  • A centralized physical location is important for student engagement (a careers hub is under renovation in the Davis Center and will open in the fall of 2013 );
  • Progress must be tracked to ensure accountability and inform any necessary mid-course corrections.

Much of the plan will be implemented in the coming academic year.

President Sullivan and Shane Jacobson, vice president and chief operating officer of the UVM Foundation provided the full board with an update and status report on the comprehensive campaign. The provisional goal of the campaign is $500 million, double the last campaign’s goal, Jacobson said, an objective the university is on track to achieve. Jacobson cited four reasons why the campaign will be successful. The campaign is:

  • Strategic, aligned with the university mission and vision;
  • Inclusive, offering an opportunity for donors at every level to participate;
  • Comprehensive, incorporating a wide range of campus priorities; and
  • Meaningful, with every gift valued and celebrated.

The comprehensive campaign is “absolutely essential and transformative,” Sullivan said. “Our success -- and we will be successful -- is going to enhance quality and will build the very thing we all cherish:  the reputation of this great university.”

Sullivan is an “outstanding fundraiser,” Jacobson said. “Individually and in small and large groups, he hits home run after home run.”  Sullivan has visited all 14 counties in Vermont and has made more than 25 fund-raising trips outside the state. The Foundation expects to announce the public phase of the campaign in October 2015. 

The Socially Responsible Investing Advisory Council informed committee members of the Budget, Finance and Investment committee that a group led by graduate student Elizabeth Palchek is researching the Student Climate Culture’s proposal to divest from fossil fuel companies. The Council will present a report to Richard Cate, vice president for finance and administration, by June 1, 2013, summarizing the research and providing recommendations for strategic investments in the energy sector. The board also voted to reaffirm divesture from Sudan, acting on BFI’s recommendation.

Read a PDF of the consent agenda, itemizing all action items approved by the board.