Vermont High School Students Are Now Able to Enroll in College Full-time

By Alessandria Schumacher

Within 16 months of graduation, only 60 percent of Vermont’s high school graduates enroll in post-secondary education. In an effort to increase attendance, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin introduced his early start degree program this December, which allows high school seniors to enroll at one of six Vermont colleges to earn college credit.

Community College of Vermont (CCV), Burlington College, Vermont Technical College, Castleton State, Johnson State, and Lyndon State will all be participating in the early start degree program.

Each school except for the community colleges has a limit of 18 students for the first three years.  Tim Donovan, the chancellor of the Vermont State Colleges (VSC), expects around 240 students to enroll.

Despite having the highest graduation rate in the nation at roughly 90 percent, Vermont’s college enrollment rate is the lowest in New England.  Of the students who enroll in college, just half complete a degree during the next four years.

The University of Vermont Summer Academy (VSC), a four-week program open to high school juniors and seniors, now allows students to earn college credit. Students in this program during the summer can enroll in courses on campus and online. The credit is transferable throughout several schools in the state.

The Academy’s newly expanded Vermont Dual Enrollment Program allows students to enroll in two courses without paying tuition. Governer Shumlin has also launched Personalized Learning Plans to help students create individualized paths to post-secondary education.

Ideally, the new Early Start Degree Program will reduce payments equivalent to a year’s worth of tuition. Funding typically allotted to high schools is now directed toward tuition costs for the students enrolled in college classes that is equal to about 87 percent of the full tuition cost, excluding room and board.

Dan Smith, VSC director of community relations and public policy, said that tuition at CCV is fully covered in this program because it is less than the per student cost of high school education.

Although the early enrollment program reduces higher education costs, it is not an alternative to increased funding for state higher education, Shumlin stated.

The union that reresents college educators in Vermont, the American Federation of Teachers, has called for an increase of state funding for higher education over the next 10 years.

The organization recommends funding for 51 percent of state tuition costs, a return to the level funded by the state in 1980.  The state currently funds about eight percent of UVM’s tuition and 12 percent of VSC’s tuition.

“What we have seen in recent years is a huge cost shift onto the backs of students and families,” said Senator Anthony Pollina P/D of Washington.

Vermont currently faces a budged gap of approximately 75 million dollars, and the governor would not say when funds could increase.

Because of this lack of available funds, rising tuition costs and the low rate of college completion, the Early Start Degree Program “is good, old Vermont creativity,” said Shumlin.

He believes it will be effective because it recognizes, “that the money we have is in short supply, that we all need to be more innovative in achieving our goals of getting more high school students training beyond high school.”

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