June 24, 2024

BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) – A state education fund is helping to make secondary education for Vermont high schoolers more attainable. The McClure Foundation’s Free Degree Promise is working with the Community College of Vermont to build on the Early College Program that already allows seniors to spend their final year of high school at participating colleges around the state.

The promise of a free associate degree could be a game-changer for many Vermont young adults. “We believe in Vermont’s young people, we believe in their future, we’re hopeful about their future, and we want them to be, too. Young people deserve a degree they can count on,” said Carolyn Weir, the executive director of the McClure Foundation. She says the offer is aimed at helping a subset of young Vermonters who do not plan to pursue a secondary degree or career training after high school. “Our hope is that young people see this fast-tracked pathway to a free degree and a promising Vermont job.”

The offer is available to current 8th to 11th graders and promises to pay for tuition, books, fees, and other costs at Community College of Vermont campuses. “We don’t know quite how many students will enroll but a promise is a promise. We will guarantee to cover those costs no matter how many students enroll. And if a lot of students enroll, we’ll consider that a success for those students and Vermont,” Weir said.

The funding comes from the McClure endowment and from the Vermont Community Foundation’s COVID-19 response fund. Prospective students need to reach out to CCV to take part.

“I think the ultimate goal is to encourage more and more Vermonters, particularly more and more young Vermonters, to continue their education beyond high school,” said CCV President Joyce Judy. She says only 50 to 60% of high school graduates pursue further education once they graduate, with many thinking that the cost of a degree is simply too much to spend. “So, whether you’re low income or middle income and don’t have the discretionary money to spend on a college education, this is the program for you.”

And of the 150 Early College students currently enrolled, 50% are first-generation college students. The program seeks to expand opportunities for those who may not have the chance otherwise, but at a fraction of the cost. The two-year cost of tuition alone at CCV tops out at nearly $17,000, not including textbooks or fees. With Free Degree Promise, that number drops to zero.

“Then you can take these credits and transfer them. If a student wants a bachelor’s degree, they can go to UVM, they can go to VSC, they can go to Champlain, they can go to Norwich. We have guided pathways and articulation agreements with so many colleges both in state and out of state,” Judy said.

And that’s what Montpelier High School senior Raine Towns hopes to do. She’s in year one of early college now and doesn’t even go to her high school for classes anymore. “You learn about the environment and what it’s kind of like to expect in college. You make great connections with people. I made so many great connections at my school,” Towns said. She says with the promise of a free second year and stipends to cover extra costs, she knows now that’s the route she’s taking. “I’m super fortunate and thankful. I know it’s fairly new. When I talk to friends who are still in high school and just how much they’re still in school and the struggles they have, I just feel so blessed to do what I’m doing.”

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