BURLINGTON -- U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin touted separate plans Monday to help make it easier for young people and their families to afford college.

In a news conference at his Burlington office, Sanders highlighted a plan to cut the cost of college by allowing high school juniors and seniors to take college-level classes and earn credit that count toward both their high school diplomas and college degrees. The "dual enrollment" approach reduces the cost and time necessary to complete a college degree, Sanders said.

"We are living in a highly competitive global economy and if the United States is going to succeed we need to have the best educated workforce in the entire world," Sanders, a member of the Senate Education Committee, said in a news release.

Gov. Peter Shumlin (AP photo)
Gov. Peter Shumlin (AP photo)
"But the sad truth is we are now competing against other nations around the world that make it much easier for their young people to go to college."

The average four-year college graduate in Vermont will enter the workforce owing an average of $28,000 in student loans -- $1,000 more than the national average, said Sanders, who was joined at his news conference by a number of students and recent graduates carrying significant debt.

Separately Monday, Gov. Peter Shumlin held a news conference at the Vermont Student Assistance Corp. office in Winooski where he thanked state lawmakers for approving the Vermont Strong Scholars Program. The program helps pay for college and provide more internship and workplace options for students. Coupled with legislation passed earlier in the two-year legislative session that ended Saturday, eligible Vermont students can now attend up to two years of college at a Vermont institution for free.

The dual enrollment and early college programs, approved in 2013, also make it possible for high school students to attend college for free during their junior and senior years.

The Vermont Strong Scholars Program, in partnership with Vermont Student Assistance Corp.

Sen. Bernie Sanders
Sen. Bernie Sanders
, will provide tuition loan forgiveness to graduates who stay to work in certain fields. In addition, lawmakers added $250,000 to expand internship opportunities, reflecting their commitment to connecting students with on-the-ground job experience and training, and creating links between potential graduates and Vermont employers.

"Today young people need additional education beyond high school to get the best jobs," Shumlin said. "What we have accomplished with these programs ensures more Vermonters can afford that opportunity, particularly students who thought college was out of reach."