MONTPELIER — Five Vermont colleges announced Thursday they’ll participate in a program that allows high school seniors to matriculate at institutions of higher learning full time and free of charge.
Gov. Peter Shumlin said the expansion of an “early college” initiative launched 25 years ago by Vermont Technical College will help the state overcome one of its greatest educational failings.
While high school graduation rates for Vermont students are among the highest in the nation, the state ranks last in New England for the rate of outgoing seniors who go on to college.
“We are not getting enough kids, low-income kids in particular, the education they need to succeed in this workforce, which means some training beyond high school,” Shumlin said during a news conference Thursday morning.
Lyndon, Castleton and Johnson state colleges, along with Burlington College and Community College of Vermont, will join the program in the academic year beginning next fall.
By redirecting public money away from local high schools and toward the colleges of students’ choice, the early college program essentially allows students to complete their freshman year of college at no cost.
State colleges will take an approximately 10 percent hit on tuition rates by accepting the high school reimbursement levels. But Tim Donovan, chancellor of Vermont State Colleges, said the initiative will bring students onto campus who might not otherwise have considered any postsecondary education.
“In this state we have both an economic and a civic imperative to create the opportunities that our youth need to prosper in this world,” Donovan said. “And for those young people who do not continue in their education, it’s often because they cannot simply envision themselves, or haven’t had family support to envision themselves, moving beyond college.”
Donovan and Shumlin said the early college expansion is one component of a broader “flexible pathways” program that looks to expose high school sophomores, juniors and seniors to the college experience. A dual enrollment plan lets students earn high school and college credits simultaneously by taking courses on college campuses.
“Every option in flexible pathways is critical,” Shumlin said. “When you come from a family that doesn’t have aspirations for you beyond high school, and when you don’t have early support and guidance to ensure that you maximize your learning potential, then it’s less likely you’re going to be enthusiastic about learning beyond high school.”
Vermont Technical College has seen its early college program grow from 30 students to 60 over the past three years. Each of the five colleges that announced participation Thursday will have an enrollment cap of 18 students for at least three years, with the exception of Community College of Vermont, which will have no limit.
The program does not cover the cost of room and board for high school seniors who want to live on campus.
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