In my travels throughout the state across the past seven months, I’ve learned a lot from Vermonters. Most I have spoken with look at the changes UVM has undergone in the last fifteen years—from state-of-the-art new buildings that have transformed our campus to research that has improved the lives of Vermonters, to rising academic quality and robust enrollment—and see a vibrant institution on an upward trajectory that is good for the state.

But some see these gains differently; as coming at the expense of Vermont and Vermonters. In their view, the university, in pursuit of the out-of-state tuition revenue necessary to fund its advance, is turning its back on Vermont and Vermonters.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Befitting our mission as one of America’s great land grant universities, our connection to and support of the state is realized in myriad ways. At the heart of this, of course, is undergraduate education for Vermonters.

Approximately two thousand Vermont high school graduates apply to the university every year and the university admits 68 percent of them. What’s more, 44 percent of in-state students attend UVM tuition-free.

True, we are an unusual state flagship university in our balance of in-state and out-of-state students. Vermonters make up only about 20 percent of UVM’s incoming class (a number that increases to 27 percent for the total undergraduate population, thanks to Vermonters who transfer back to UVM).

But these numbers merit a closer look at the realities behind them: Vermont’s small population, the second lowest in the nation; the limited number of high school graduates resulting from that small population; the low percentage of Vermonters who go on to college, approximately 50 percent, close to last in the nation; and the attraction that going beyond the state’s borders for college holds for some of our young people.

While providing an education for Vermonters is an essential part of the social contract of the land grant university, so is doing all we can to build the state’s workforce and employment opportunities. At this moment in time, that is of vital importance as we face the existential threat to Vermont’s future represented by our shrinking workforce, a problem laid out in sobering detail by Governor Phil Scott, UVM Class of 1980, in his State-of-the-State Address in January.

Nearly 70 percent of our in-state students elect to remain in their home state to begin their careers after graduation, and 31 percent of out-of-state students remain in Vermont after graduation. With a collective tally of approximately 40 percent of our graduates electing to start their careers in Vermont, this represents a much-needed “brain gain.”

Still, many of our young grads tell us that they would like to establish their careers in Vermont if more good jobs that matched their interests were available. Indeed, there is considerable room for advancement on this front, and UVM is hard at work to help create those employment opportunities by supporting the job creation initiatives of the state and incubators like the Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies. We do this by spinning off new companies based on our faculty’s research, by forming partnerships with large corporations like Google that not only fund research by our faculty and students but could potentially establish satellite operations in the state, and by ramping up our global engagement to attract investment from other countries where UVM has a research and educational presence.
 
I look forward to the work ahead with our partners in higher education, business, and communities throughout the state as we work together to build a sustainable future for Vermont.

—Suresh V. Garimella

PUBLISHED

03-03-2020
Suresh Garimella