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College Courses Offer High School Students Access, Opportunity

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By Cynthia Belliveau

What does a person’s future look like without a post-secondary education? In all likelihood, it’s going to be tougher for many reasons. Let’s face it, the days of only having a high school diploma are long gone. But here in Vermont, an alarming number of students are still not furthering their education. While Vermont’s high school graduation rate is significantly higher than the national average, the percentage of Vermont graduates who go on to college is much lower.

Despite having one of the highest high school graduation rates in the country, only 53 percent of Vermont high school graduates go right from high school to college. Fayneese Miller, dean of the UVM College of Education and Social Services, said in an interview with VPR that about 60 percent of Vermont high school students enroll in college within 16 months of graduation. Still, those figures are below the national average, and are the lowest in New England.

Last week, 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.

That’s good news. I applaud Governor Shumlin and Education Secretary Rebecca Holcombe for their efforts and commitment to helping students plan beyond high school. It’s also worth noting that the newly expanded Vermont Dual Enrollment Plan can provide some affordable options and access. At the University of Vermont, we offer an extensive summer college program for high school juniors and seniors who can earn college credit, explore campus life, and beginning in 2014, take up to two college courses tuition-free over two years under Vermont’s Dual Enrollment Program.

Last year, the Vermont Legislature passed Act 77 – the Flexible Pathways Bill – to expand Vermont’s Dual Enrollment Program by offering Vermont students up to two college courses tuition-free at several Vermont colleges, including UVM. Overseen by the Vermont Agency of Education, Vermont’s Dual Enrollment Program introduces college-level work to high school students and gives them a head start on college. The Dual Enrollment program is open to Vermont high school students who attend public schools.

A summer college program gives high school juniors and seniors an early start by helping them experience the challenge of a college-level course while earning college credit. High school students may explore career fields with professors who are leading experts, enroll in classes with other high school college students, and earn transferable college credit.

The University of Vermont is dedicated to affordability and access. With the help of Vermont’s Dual Enrollment program, a summer college program can help open the door for Vermont high school students who might not otherwise consider college as an option.

Cynthia Belliveau is the Dean of Continuing and Distance Education, which oversees the University of Vermont’s summer college program.