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Obama Plan Could Enable More Vermont High School Grads To Attend College

kaster-ap-obama-community-college.jpg
Carolyn Caster
/
AP Photo
President Barack Obama, shown here on Jan. 9 in Tennessee, has announced a plan to make community college tuition-free. This proposal could enable more Vermont high school graduates to attend college.

State college officials say President Obama’s proposal to make community college tuition-free would boost enrollment and benefit the entire system. 

“Being able to get your first two years of college free or at very little cost would increase the enrollment at community colleges significantly,” says Community College of Vermont President Joyce Judy.

“I can’t tell you how many students don’t pursue their education because they can’t afford it, or the perception is they can’t afford it,” Judy says.

Currently, fulltime tuition and fees at CCV average about $6,000 a year. Judy says CCV costs are lower than the national average, but the tuition is higher because Vermont’s level of financial support for state colleges is low. 

"I can't tell you how many students don't pursue their education because they can't afford it, or the perception is they can't afford it." - Joyce Judy, president of the Community College of Vermont

Under the president’s proposal, the federal government would pay 75 percent of the tuition for eligible community college students, based on the national average, which is $3,300 dollars a year.

The president’s proposal, which needs congressional approval, would require states to pay the remaining 25 percent. 

But since Vermont’s tuition is much higher, the state would need to pay a higher percentage to make CCV tuition free for eligible students.

“There have been some back-of-the-envelope cost sharing estimates and it’s in the $3-4 million range, which seems very reasonable,” says Vermont State Colleges Chancellor Jeb Spaulding.

“We’re seeing middle and upper income families going to college at the same rate they’ve always gone. What’s happening is students from lower income levels are making decisions not to go to college." - Joyce Judy

President Obama’s proposal only applies to tuition for students at community colleges, even though other Vermont state colleges also offer two-year programs. 

Spaulding says although CCV would be the most direct beneficiary, the program would help the entire college system. “Just getting more high school students into post-secondary education and having them realize they can do it, they can afford it and that they want to continue and can continue would help the rest of our state colleges, the university and the private colleges as well,” he says.

The percentage of Vermont high school graduates who go on to college is below the national average.

Judy says the president’s proposal highlights a problem that contributes to the growing income disparity in the country.  

“We’re seeing middle and upper income families going to college at the same rate they’ve always gone. What’s happening is students from lower income levels are making decisions not to go to college,” she says.

Judy says enrollment in CCV is strong. More than half of those who enroll as full-time students continue their education at a four-year college. She says other students are working adults who want to acquire more skills.

It’s not clear what the prospects are for the president’s idea to become reality, given the politics in Washington. States would also need to sign onto the plan, which is loosely modeled on an existing program in Tennessee. 

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