- Jade Premont ©️ ©️ Seven Days
- High school students at CCV-Montpelier
To take advantage of the foundation's newly launched Free Degree Promise, students must attend CCV's Early College Program during their senior year of high school. The foundation would then pay for them to complete any of the community college's 11 associate's degree programs — from health science to information technology to early childhood education. In addition to covering tuition, McClure will provide a stipend between $500 and $1,000 to help with expenses such as books and transportation.
The Free Degree Promise essentially extends the Early College Program at CCV by another year, enabling Vermont students to rack up a second year of college and earn their associate's degree — at no cost.
Enrollment in the state's Early College Program has grown steadily. In the fall of 2016, 168 Vermont high school seniors participated, according to a report by the Vermont State Colleges System. Four years later, that number rose to 266.
CCV enrolls roughly 150 seniors from 40 to 50 Vermont high schools in its Early College Program each year, according to CCV director of communications Katie Keszey. Half are the first generation in their family to attend college and 32 percent are low-income.
CCV — which has 12 locations around the state — also has agreements with a number of colleges, such as the University of Vermont and Champlain College, for guaranteed admission for its graduates, Judy said. That means a student participating in the Free Degree Promise program could complete their first two years of post-secondary ed for free at CCV, then enter a four-year college as a junior.
Two years ago, McClure— an affiliate of the Vermont Community Foundation — gifted all 2020 high school graduates in the state one free class at CCV. Six hundred of them — more than 10 percent of the graduating class, and double the number of students that enroll at CCV in a typical year —took advantage of the offer that fall. That high uptake showed the benefits of removing financial obstacles to college, Vermont Community Foundation president Dan Smith said; the Free Degree Promise program has a similar goal.
"So much of higher education right now is a self-defeating morass of complexity over who's paying for what, where the money is coming from, what form you have to fill out when," Smith said. "Those kids who most stand to benefit are least likely to wade into that morass.
"So, the intention behind this," he continued, "is that it be a big, clear and hopeful commitment that every Vermont kid is eligible for this opportunity — to have an economically relevant associate's degree by age 19."