by Steve Zind, Vermont Public Radio
A group of Vermont public and private higher learning institutions has announced a plan to share students and programs in an effort to boost the state’s image as an education center for agriculture and food systems.
It’s a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts, according to the people behind the new Vermont Higher Education Food Systems Consortium.
The University of Vermont and a number of other colleges in the state have food and farm programs, each with a different focus. Offering a student at one the chance to also take courses and study at another is seen as a way to take advantage of those differences in order to create a larger, more comprehensive field of study.
Vermont State Colleges Chancellor Tim Donovan says the collaboration has the potential to make Vermont a center for food systems education.
“If you look around the country and you think of places where there has been unique economic activity: Silicon Valley, the Route 128 corridor, New York City for the fashion industry. At the nexus of all that activity there’s an educational component and I think Vermont will be no different in that regard,” says Donovan.
As Vermont’s population ages, the state’s reputation for agriculture and value added food production is seen as one way to draw young people interested those careers.
Officials say they plan to market the new higher education consortium to attract out of state students.
“With the decline in students of college age, 19 percent in the state of Vermont, and the need for more brain power coming into the state, the publics and privates play a major role in drawing talented people from other states to the state of Vermont. Agriculture is the brand for Vermont,”says Paul Fonteyn, president of Green Mountain College.
The college presidents say there’s evidence students who come to study in Vermont stay after they graduate.
Marc Mihaly, president and dean of the Vermont Law School, says a significant number of the school’s alumni who originally came from out of state to attend the South Royalton school now live in Vermont.
Mihaly says the Vermont Higher Education Food Systems Consortium has even more potential than other programs to keep students here after graduation.
“This particular issue has a special draw and will cause people to fall in love with Vermont and stay in Vermont,” he says.
In addition to the law school, Green Mountain College and the state college system, Sterling College and the University of Vermont are participating in the consortium.
Initially the collaboration will include courses and programs that already exist at the colleges, without creating new ones.
Arrangements for sharing tuition have yet to be worked out.