Vermont high school students will have the chance to spend their senior year earning full-time credit at six Vermont colleges under a new plan announced Thursday.
Beginning next fall, seniors can apply to enroll at six colleges participating in the state’s early start degree program. Higher education officials representing the colleges joined Gov. Peter Shumlin at a news conference in Montpelier to announce the program.
Tim Donovan, chancellor of the Vermont State Colleges, said the program offers a smooth transition from high school to college. He said this “pathway” might encourage more students to enroll in higher education degree programs.
“In this state, we have both an economic and civic imperative to create the opportunities that our youth needs to prosper in this world,” Donovan said. “In Vermont, we have a great high school graduation success, among the top in the country; we are last in New England in college continuation rates.”
There are about 7,000 graduating high school students in Vermont, education officials said. Fifty-one percent of those graduates seek degrees at higher education institutions and about half of those complete degrees in the next four years.
Institutions participating in the program include Burlington College, Castleton State College, Community College of Vermont, Johnson State College, Lyndon State College and Vermont Technical College.
Other colleges can sign onto the program at anytime. The University of Vermont is not participating in the program, though it offers a dual enrollment program that allows students to receive college credits while still in high school, education officials said.
The high school’s per-student cost would be accepted by the college as full tuition. Room and board is not covered. Officials said the per-student stipend equals about 87 percent of the colleges’ tuition cost.
Shumlin said the program allows students to shave a year of tuition off the cost of their degree.
“The money follows the student and it really gives the students the opportunity to get a year of college credit that they would not otherwise have covered by the current cost of public education,” Shumlin said.
He said the early start program is not an alternative to funding state higher education.
“I don’t see it as an alternative to appropriating more money,” Shumlin said. “I think it is good, old Vermont creativity of recognizing that the money we have is in short supply, that we all need to be more innovative in achieving our goals of getting more high school students training beyond high school, understanding that there is not tons and tons of loot kicking around that none of us have discovered yet.”
Earlier this month, the American Federation of Teachers Vermont called for a major increase in state spending on higher education. The union recommended increasing state appropriations for state colleges and universities to 51 percent over 10 years. Currently, the state pays about 8 percent of University of Vermont’s tuition and 12 percent of VSC’s tuition.
The state faces a roughly $75 million budget gap, Shumlin said. He would not say whether the state will increase higher education funding next year.
Participating colleges have set program enrollment caps at 18 students for the first three years of the program, except for Community College of Vermont, which has no caps for its 12 sites, said Dan Smith, director of community relations and public policy at Vermont State Colleges.
Donovan said he expects about 240 students to enroll in the early start program.
Vermont Technical College already offers an early college program though its Vermont Academy of Science and Technology (VAST) program. This will be the model for the program, education officials said.
The early start option is the result of a dual enrollment and “flexible pathways,” or early start, legislation that lawmakers passed last year.
In the legislation, the college is reimbursed at 87 percent of the base education rate, which is the amount set by the Legislature and generates the funding for high schools, said Smith, of VSC, in an email Friday. In fiscal year 2014, it was $9,151, so colleges will receive $7,961 for each student enrolled, he said.
Smith said CCV’s tuition is fully covered because full-time tuition at CCV is less than the high school base education rate.