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Greene: College Bound

The exterior of the Community College of Vermont, a brick building with CCV sign above door.
Howard Weiss-Tisman
More Vermonters could afford college if they took advantage of low community college tuition for their freshman and sophomore years.

Time was that first year college students arrived on campus with their milk crates and graduated four years later. My parents were mortified that I took longer and bounced around between two institutions.But a Vermont high school counselor friend says that the skyrocketing cost of higher education has really changed things. She says some of her students are now choosing Early College, a free program in which they combine their senior year of high school with their first year of college by enrolling in a local community college. Others will start at a community college for basic credits - then transfer later to a four year school.

According to the Vermont Student Assistance Corporation, or VSAC, the national trend is for 70% of graduating seniors to attend college with 29% of them enrolling in a 2 year institution. In Vermont the figures are only 60% and 7% respectively.

My friend says that many high school seniors just can't afford four years of higher ed without a break to generate funds – or more simply put – finances drive everything.

Another woman I know who's deeply involved in Vermont’s education system welcomes the campaign debate about free college. She says here the college attendance rate is more like 50% - one of the country's lowest - but at least the conversation acknowledges the importance of education beyond the 12th grade. For generations, a ninth grade education might have been adequate preparation for a good job; but she says no longer.

She also adds that a liberal arts grounding is essential for advancement – because 'Students must develop the skills to think critically and communicate clearly, regardless of what technical field they enter.'

And with Vermont's aging population reaching retirement, more sophisticated college graduates may have an edge on even entry level positions.

Vermont's Community College system currently serves 6000 students per semester in 12 locations, with a third of their courses available online. It also offers credentialing programs in multiple fields, so students can qualify for good positions in a matter of months, while continuing their education.

And older Vermonters who enjoy lifelong learning can rejoice that for anyone over 65, CCV enrollment is free.

Stephanie Greene is a free-lance writer now living with her husband and sons on the family farm in Windham County.
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