Recently, US Sen. Bernie Sanders announced that he intends to introduce federal legislation addressing many of the barriers low-income and first-generation students face as they consider college. This would make the opportunity to attend college a reality for these students – an opportunity we are already providing here in Vermont.
On the same day, across town, at Vermont Student Assistance Corp. (VSAC), Governor Shumlin spoke about dual enrollment and early college programs expanded in Vermont in 2013. Dual enrollment programs allow high school students to take college-level classes at no cost, while the new Early College program starting this fall allows high school seniors to complete their final year of high school on a college campus, taking a full course load, earning both college and high school credits at no cost.
Nationally, 80% of high income, low performing students attend college. Yet, high performing students from low-income families only have a 20% chance of pursuing higher education. In Vermont, we are fortunate that the state supports dual enrollment courses and early college programs.
For students worn out on high school, dual enrollment is a way to provide greater challenges in a more stimulating environment; for technical high school students, it is a way to provide expanded course opportunities and deeper career preparedness; for all students, dual enrollment and early college provide the financial incentive of lowering overall college costs, a very real concern for most Vermont families; and for students whose families have never attended college, dual enrollment is a critical way to provide early access to and success with higher education.
Burlington College has strong connections with area high schools offering dual enrollment courses. From graphic design to English, we are working with students who might otherwise have seen no financial or academic pathway to college. Through the existing dual enrollment option in Vermont, high school students can experience success with college-level work, earning college credits with great pride. Burlington College will also offer Early College this fall to high school seniors who wish to complete their first year of college cost-free. Our small, hands-on classes ensure that this first taste of college will be well supported and successful. From our perspective, it is not just providing access; wemust also support students as they find early success in higher education.
For many low income students and new Americans, life experiences and family responsibilities have led them to a maturity beyond their years. Many are working one, two or three jobs while attending high school full time, caring for younger siblings, or helping non-English-speaking parents navigate new cultural and social circumstances. These students have a work ethic, motivation, and level of commitment that is enviable, and their dreams are large. It is tremendously important for these students to have access to a college experience and a college environment before they graduate from high school. This is where the spark of excitement about a brighter future is generated; it is the all-important bridge between high school and college. Without this bridge, the river is often far too wide to cross.
Many children, including my own, have had the good fortune to grow up in a family with college-educated parents who have always provided support and guidance towards college as a destination. You could say that we were the bridge for our children.
Vermont is home to an extraordinarily diverse and collaborative group of institutions of higher education, including public and private colleges and universities, two and four year schools, technical schools, research institutions, liberal arts institutions, colleges ranging in size from under 100 students to over 10,000 students, and colleges in every geographic region of the state. Through dual enrollment, every one of these institutions is able to provide local high school students with a head start on the path to a college education.
Vermont is nimble and has a history of being a national leader in many areas. Vermont’s colleges are working to address concerns of affordability through tuition reductions, guarantees, increased financial aid, and other initiatives. Our Dual Enrollment and Early College programs are a positive and productive way for the state to team up with all of Vermont’s colleges to contribute to a stronger economy and better educated population.
Christine Plunkett is the President of Burlington College, and the parent of four children who have benefited from dual enrollment opportunities and are the successful products of Vermont’s public school system.
Burlington College is a small liberal arts college located on the shores of Lake Champlain. Home to first-generation college students, new Americans, and those looking for a close-knit community, the College is committed to small, discussion-based classes and experiential learning.