University of Vermont President Suresh Garimella today announced his proposal to keep tuition frozen at current levels for a third year.
Garimella cited the university’s ongoing commitment to keep UVM affordable and accessible and noted the financial impact that the pandemic has had on students and families. Affordability and accessibility are key elements of the Amplifying Our Impact strategic vision, which is built around three pillars: ensuring student success, investing in distinctive research strengths, and fulfilling UVM’s land grant mission.
“This is why, today, I am announcing that I will recommend to the Board of Trustees a zero tuition increase for next year,” said Garimella. “No increase for undergraduate students, no increase for graduate students. No increase for in-state students, no increase for out-of-state students.”
To further help students and families, Garimella will recommend a freeze in room and board charges, which average $13,354. Over the past eight years, the average increase in room and board has been 3.2% annually. If approved, this would mark the first time in more than three decades there will be no increase in room or board.
President Garimella will also recommend a reduction in the student comprehensive fee and the postponement of a previously approved increase of $140 for the multipurpose center, even while substantial facility improvements for recreation and wellness are underway.
Garimella also unveiled a new fundraising initiative, “Student Opportunity, Access, and Recruitment” (SOAR for short), to generate financial support for both undergraduate and graduate students. An especially important component of this initiative is the new President’s Common Ground scholarship. This scholarship will support underrepresented and underserved students, making it possible for them to attend UVM and focus on their education rather than whether they will have sufficient resources for basic needs. “While our starting goal for this initiative is $150 million, given the passion of our alumni and the achievements of our students, I am confident we can exceed this amount,” he said. More than $18 million in commitments to the support scholarships have already been secured.
“As we know only too well, the coronavirus pandemic has taken an enormous toll, not just in terms of the tragic loss of lives, but also its devastating effect on livelihoods,” said Garimella. “Student loan debt remains one of the major hurdles faced by students in the United States. It is the second highest category of consumer debt in the nation—second only to mortgage debt and higher than credit card debt. Funding a college education is one of the largest expenditures that families face. It is an expenditure that is increasingly important to securing a young person’s future success, but one that is slipping out of reach for many families. These moves on behalf of our students are an investment in our future and, if endorsed when the trustees meet in the spring, will mark three consecutive years of tuition being frozen at the same rate.”
Garimella said that these measures are not easy for the university to undertake, nor were they taken lightly, given the financial pressures facing UVM. This year the majority of the university’s staff have taken wage cuts of 5% and senior leaders have taken an even larger cut by giving up a month’s salary. “This reflects the commitment of our university community to do all we can to help maintain affordability for our students,” said Garimella.
These steps also reflect UVM’s institutional values. “At the University of Vermont, our driving force is our commitment to our students. Our most sacred responsibility is to provide an excellent education that is accessible and affordable. A zero tuition increase aligns with the priorities I outlined at the start of my tenure, and is a core component of the University of Vermont’s three-part Amplifying Our Impact strategic vision,” he said. Each year, UVM devotes nearly $160 million to scholarships and financial aid, making it possible for 45 percent of Vermont students to attend tuition-free.
When Garimella first recommended a zero tuition increase last year, UVM had not frozen tuition in more than 40 years. “It was a historic announcement. This year, it is perhaps even more significant,” he said. “Universities throughout the nation are struggling. The economic impact of COVID-19 has been enormous. But it has also laid bare a financial model that must adapt to current realities and serve the best interests of our students. Constant tuition increases are not the solution to the budget pressures higher education faces. And it is not prudent, nor is it practical, to expect students—and families—to absorb continually rising costs. The endless spiral is counter to Our Common Ground values.” Instead, the university will continue to ensure its operating costs are optimal, while seeking additional revenue through innovative non-traditional educational offerings and fundraising efforts.
Garimella noted that keeping college affordable increases the likelihood of graduating in a timely manner. Timely graduation decreases the cost of a degree, and enables students to join the workforce earlier, with the skills necessary to contribute to the state’s and the nation’s economic development.
“These initiatives represent a proactive pathway for us to galvanize our efforts to empower excellent students from all backgrounds. When you consider the financial burdens facing so many of our students, freezing tuition and related costs is clearly the right choice. This, in combination with our new financial aid fundraising effort, will benefit us all as our students realize their potential. And their achievements will help to keep UVM Strong,” Garimella said.