University president to recommend tuition, room-board freeze

The president of the University of Vermont said Monday that he will recommend to the board a freeze on tuition and room and board costs and a reduction in a student fee for next year.

He also wants to launch a fundraising campaign to raise $150 million in financial support for students as the school faces budget challenges exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Families are struggling,” said UVM President Suresh Garimella at a news briefing. He noted that UVM had the fourth highest tuition of any public university when the administration last looked.

“So it is critical that we do all we can to keep our tuition in check so that students are able to attend. So our hope is that more students see that UVM is a good bet not only because we’re making it financially feasible but because, as you know, we are probably among the top universities in the country in terms of handling COVID.”

A total of 27 UVM students have tested positive for COVID-19 as of Oct. 25, and the school has a cumulative test positivity rate of 0.03% going back to Aug. 7, a spokesman said.

UVM’s undergraduate enrollment this academic year is projected to be 9,939 students, down about 455 students from last year, a spokesman said.

Garimella said he believed that freezing tuition for a third year in a row will help to keep enrollment up, while raising tuition threatens to decrease it and is not the way to address the budget challenges that colleges and universities face, he said.

If approved, it would be the first time in more than 30 years that the school had not raised room and board.

“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,” he said.

In June, UVM announced budget cuts, and Garimella said a majority of the staff have taken cuts of up to 5% while all senior leaders have taken that 5% cut plus an additional 3.3% reduction. “So we’re all contributing,” he said, adding that he hopes that the faculty who are represented by the union will do the same. “Because I know we all care about our students and we want our students an education that is high quality but also affordable,” he said.

The fundraising for financial aid brings in other sources of revenue, he said, adding that he believed that over 80% of UVM students get some sort of scholarship support and 45% of Vermont students attend tuition-free.

“Of course it costs a lot of money and as the university faces more financial challenges we would like to keep up that support and to the extent possible enhance it,” he said.

In other developments related to the coronavirus in Vermont:

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COLLEGE OUTBREAK

An outbreak of the coronavirus at St. Michael's College in Colchester has grown to 28 cases on campus.

College leaders met with the Health Department on Sunday to discuss the next steps to control the outbreak on the 1,500-student campus, WCAX-TV reported.

President Lorraine Sterritt sent a letter to students saying health officials indicate the college has a good chance of containing and managing the cases, but only if everyone strictly follows the college’s policies.

The 28 people are in isolation, and about 140 students who have been identified as contacts and are now in quarantine, the news station said. The Health Department is continuing to do contact tracing and has told the college to expect more positive cases.

Through Nov. 1, all classes are now being held online, dining is takeout only and there will be no in-person activities. All students are asked to stay on campus, and those who commute are asked not to come to the school. All students on campus will be tested on Saturday, and those who are ending their quarantine will be tested this week.

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NUMBERS

The Vermont Health Department on Monday reported nine new cases of the coronavirus, bringing the statewide total since the pandemic began to more than 2,080.

Three people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19.

The number of deaths remains at 58. Vermont has not reported a COVID-19 fatality since July 28.