By Cynthia Belliveau, Ed.D., Dean of UVM Continuing and Distance Education
President Obama’s college plan to provide post-secondary education that is universally affordable and accessible to Americans could be the answer to our accessibility and affordability problem, especially here in Vermont.
While Vermont has one of the highest high school graduation rates in the country, only 52 percent of Vermont high school graduates go straight from high school to college. About 60 percent of Vermont high school students eventually enroll in college within 16 months of graduation. Still, those figures are below the national average, and are the lowest in New England.
Vermont has made progress on making college more affordable and accessible. Last year, Gov. Peter Shumlin announced the statewide launch of Personalized Learning Plans (PLPs) for all Vermont students. The goal of the PLP program is to create a path for all Vermont students toward post-secondary education. Vermont’s Dual Enrollment Program also offers Vermont high school students up to two college courses tuition-free at several Vermont colleges, including the University of Vermont.
Still, we need to do more. Obama’s proposal — America’s College Promise plan — would cost the federal government about $60 billion over 10 years. That would cover three-quarters of the anticipated cost, giving participating states the responsibility of paying for the rest.
The United States has about 1,100 community colleges, which educate about 40 percent of American college students.
Here in Vermont, Community College of Vermont is the second largest college in the state, serving 7,000 students each semester at 12 academic centers all around the state and online. CCV has special transfer agreements with many other colleges – including UVM – to help students in the process of transferring credits. CCV offers many local students the opportunity to further their education beyond high school. Imagine what we could accomplish as a state if more Vermonters were given this opportunity.
Scott Giles, President of Vermont Student Assistance Corporation, put it this way:
“President Obama’s vision for an educated workforce is one we share. VSAC’s goal is to make sure every Vermonter can pursue studies after high school. Today’s economy demands a skilled workforce. Education and training after high school is not a luxury; it’s a necessity. This should be a priority and a commitment to the state’s future – both for Vermonters and the state’s economy,” he said in a prepared statement.
Obama’s plan requires that students would have to attend college at least half time, maintain a 2.5 grade-point average, and make steady progress toward completing their program. The money could only be used for academic programs that fully transfer to public four-year colleges or to job-training programs that have high graduation rates and also lead to degrees and certificates in high-demand fields.
Ultimately, about nine million students across the United States could benefit from Obama’s plan each year, with full-time students saving an average of $3,800 in tuition per year, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Will Obama’s plan pass through the Republican-controlled Congress? That remains to be seen. But imagine the possibilities if college becomes a right and not just a privilege.
Cynthia Belliveau is the Dean of Continuing and Distance Education at the University of Vermont.