We greeted with enthusiasm the recent news about President Obama’s latest efforts in his campaign to lead the world with the highest percentage of college graduates by 2020. The commitments the administration secured from more than 100 colleges and 40 organizations to help all of our citizens
— particularly those from low-income backgrounds — not only get to college but graduate, is a reflection of Community College of Vermont’s core mission.
President Obama’s goal here is ultimately about strengthening the economy, which is right in line with points our own Gov. Peter Shumlin made last year in his second inaugural address, remarking that “Our education system, from pre-kindergarten to higher education, is the state’s greatest economic development tool.”
If we can make higher education accessible to all and incorporate programs that ensure student success, the result will be a better-educated workforce and a stronger economy. These are indeed noble goals, and they are goals we in the community college world have been pursuing with success for decades.
For more than 40 years CCV has offered affordable, quality and personalized education to anyone who walks through our door. We are the second largest college in Vermont, serving 7,000 students each semester at 12 academic centers all around the state and online; we are the college in Vermonters’ backyards.
Our focus on affordability and on tailoring programs and services to meet the needs of all Vermonters is a formula for accessible and supportive higher education. What does this mean for Vermont?
It means inspiring high school students and exposing them to college through initiatives such as dual enrollment and our Introduction to College Studies course.
It means connecting with communities, changing lives, and changing the way families think about college. We take pride in the fact that almost 60 percent of those attending CCV are first-generation students. That is access at scale.
It means a commitment to ensuring that those who have served our nation receive the attention and guidance they deserve when transitioning from military life to college life. When a military-connected student arrives at CCV, our veteran-specific resources guarantee processes will be understandable, and the student will have a clearly defined pathway to success.
Lastly, it means keeping college affordable so that every Vermonter can earn a degree. CCV has the lowest per-credit cost of any college in the state. Our financial aid advisers ensure students aren’t taking on unnecessary debt — last year, 40 percent of CCV graduates completed their degrees with no student loan debt.
These are just a few examples of the way CCV has committed to keeping college accessible. But it is only half of the equation. Making sure students persist and complete their programs is just as important because it translates into the strengthening of our communities and the strengthening of our local, state and national economies when graduates join the workforce prepared for the jobs they’ve been hired to do.
CCV does its best to ensure this outcome. We keep our classes small — one faculty member to 12 students — so students are getting the most from faculty who bring real-world experience into the classroom.
We’ve partnered with dozens of Vermont employers to offer trainings and create custom curricula, and to seek input on crafting education that meets the demands of an ever-changing workforce.
Recently a staff member forwarded me this email from a Burundi refugee who came to Vermont at age 14. She’s now 20 and will be graduating in the spring with a medical assisting degree.
“I am very thankful to the staff at CCV for the warm welcome and the encouragements they gave me, especially Tuipate Mubiay, who has always been there for me, giving me advice, pushing me and introducing me to volunteer opportunities. I was able to improve my skills and overcome many hardships with the help of CCV staff members, CCV’s help resources, and myself trying and doing my best to succeed.”
These words were born from an accessible and supportive education, and they speak volumes about what college can do for an individual.
The recent summit is a clear sign that positive changes are occurring, and we appreciate the administration’s efforts at securing commitments from all sectors to make higher education in America more accessible and supportive. This is an admirable goal and surely an economic investment that will pay rich dividends in the future.
Joyce Judy is the president of the Community College of Vermont.
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