Vermont Foundation To Help Provide Free 2-Year Degree

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — A Vermont foundation is working with the state community college system to provide a free, two-year college degree over the next five years.

The J. Warren & Lois McClure Foundation announced the “Free Degree Promise through the Early College Program at CCV" on Tuesday for Vermont students in the high school classes of 2022-2026.

In addition to providing tuition and fees after any federal and state financial aid, the foundation will provide career and education counseling and stipends to help pay for books, transportation and other college costs.

The McClure foundation's plan builds upon the Community College of Vermont’s Early College program that allows high school seniors to complete their last year of high school and first year of college at the same time.

“Young people deserve a degree they can count on and afford,” McClure Foundation President Barbara Benedict said in a statement. “By guaranteeing this pathway through Early College to a free degree at CCV, we are telling Vermont’s young people we believe in them and we believe in their futures.”

Vermont officials have been working for years to help alleviate what has become an acute labor shortage caused by declines in the number of working age adults and the lack of trained workers.

There are programs in other states to help pay for community college. In Maine, the state budget passed earlier this month included $20 million to fund two years of free community college for eligible graduating high school students between 2020 and 2023.

Currently about 150 seniors from about 50 high schools in the state participate in the Community College of Vermont’s Early College program, said CCV spokeswoman Katie Keszey.

McClure Foundation Executive Director Carolyn Weir said they don't know how many Vermont students will take advantage of their offer to help students earn associate degrees.

“We’re committed to covering costs no matter how many students enroll,” Weir said in an email. “If a lot of students enroll, and we can point to an improvement in the number of young people in Vermont from low-income and historically marginalized backgrounds benefiting from college and career training, we’ll consider that a success — for enrolled students and for Vermont.”

The McClure Foundation focuses its efforts on equitable access to postsecondary and career education. The foundation says that since 2008 it has awarded more than $5 million to help Vermonters prepare “for secure and successful employment.”

“Early College in and of itself can be really beneficial, and taking that a step further and allowing people to finish a degree would be really, really helpful for some people," OJ Daring, who is participating in the Early Program at CCV's Winooski, said in a statement announcing the program. "To get those two years, and not be in debt, and get farther … it opens a lot of doors and opportunities if (students) are able to get an associate degree.”