UVM and Champlain College’s Admission Process Is Fueling Burlington’s Gentrification

UVM and Champlain College have a lot of power in shaping our community, in both positive and negative ways. We often hear about how 40% of UVM’s students living off campus increases non-students’ housing costs, and I’ve written about how as two of the city’s largest landlords with a captured client base, their exorbitant room and board costs likely distort rents citywide. There’s a third way that UVM and Champlain College contribute to Burlington’s gentrification, and that’s their admissions processes which are highly geared towards very wealthy families.

Thanks to the New York Times we can see a snapshot of UVM and Champlain College students’ economic backgrounds and how they compare to Burlington’s residents in 2016. Both schools have high rates of students from very wealthy backgrounds and low rates of students from very poor backgrounds, particularly when compared to Burlington residents. The median college student family is nearly 3 times as wealthy as the median Burlington family.

According to their data, not only are more than half of UVM and Champlain students from the top 20% wealthiest families, but only 4%-6% of students came from the bottom 20%. College students in Burlington are wealthy at 3 times the rate that Burlington residents are, while Burlington residents have 5-8 times higher rates of poverty than college students in Burlington.

These schools function less like educational institutions striving towards equity and more like businesses trying to maximize profits and growth. That’s the reason students and faculty are fighting against the administrations’ cuts to programs that aren’t ‘making money’.

More students come from families making $2.2 million a year than families making under $22,800 a year. A full 8,000 students come from families wealthier than 82% of all Burlington households.

NYTimes data shows that the trend of students coming from families much wealthier than Burlington residents has been consistent or increasing for decades. While UVM has become slightly less accessible since the early 2000s, Champlain College has catered towards significantly wealthier students and is their student body is now comparable to UVM’s.

How does an admissions process that caters to wealthy students effect low and moderate income Burlington residents? How does this process hurt low-income college students? How is such a model sustainable, and how do we keep Burlington from becoming an elite town for wealthy students and the business community that caters to them? Lastly, who is holding UVM and Champlain responsible for their role in hastening gentrification and making life harder for Burlington’s low income residents including low-income college students?

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4 thoughts on “UVM and Champlain College’s Admission Process Is Fueling Burlington’s Gentrification”

  1. Very interesting data analysis. I’d like to see the colleges implement a cooperative student housing model whereby student on-campus housing costs can be reduced. In exchange for lower rents, students perform functions to maintain their living quarters, e.x. meal preparation, maintenance, grounds keeping, etc. The cooperative model teaches real-life leadership skills and helps lower housing costs.

    Also, many universities have a more robust off-campus housing department where most all area landlords advertise their rental units. This free service replaces the sketchy Craigslist ads prone to fraud. The university facilitated department of Off-Campus Housing protects both first-time student renters and landlords and facilitates problem-solving such as complaints from neighbors, complaints from students, code enforcement, etc. The colleges that have better off-campus housing town & gown relationships tend to have a much better maintained neighborhood housing stock.

    1. Being a broke UVM student from a low income family sucked. My tuition was covered by grants and I have only federal student loans and none private except directly through UVM for other expenses – most of which went to housing. On campus housing costs are NUTS and the amount I’d borrowed for rent and living expenses allowed me to rent at a lower cost than living on campus, but at a higher rate than I can afford now working full time +. It seems a little ridiculous to me that we have such a massive problem caused by a high number of college kids whose parents are paying the rent anyway driving up the costs for literally everyone else. Between the shady rental business in the area (slumlords, property management companies that scam people, a general lack of available housing that is somewhat nice without also being unaffordable) and so many students requiring housing and low income housing disappearing, you’d think the city might do something. I’m now a broke UVM graduate who can’t afford to live in Burlington.

      1. Thanks for sharing your story. It’s so tough to afford Burlington especially with student loans (by the time I finished UVM I had $10k more thanks to their yearly tuition increases). It was frustrating to see UVM invest in fancy new buildings to attract wealthy students and donors instead of making sure all students were safe and had enough food to eat. And of course since low income students like you can’t afford to stay, the folks who do stay have money and continue to gentrify and drive up costs for everyone else. It’s a bad cycle.

  2. Yep, university is about securing one’s position in the top 10%. I’ve talked to many people in their 20s about the various masters and PhD degree programs they have been through. Many of them would have been called certification programs three decades ago, not degrees. Like internships and non-profit work, going to university is an indicator that one comes from money and can perform the proper rituals among others with money.

    In times of scarcity, the moats are being filled and the drawbridges are ready to be drawn up. Which side are you on?

    On the macro level, a couple of interesting articles-

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