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MARLBORO — In September 2021, Degrees of Freedom will launch two programs — Freedom Year and Liberation Launch 2+2.

Freedom Year will bring low-income and first-generation students from across the country to Marlboro three times a year for two weeks to meet with professors and other students in the program, to attend leadership seminars, and have access to health services.

“Students would not pay for this program as long as they are attending one of our partner high schools, and we’re actively looking for additional partner schools now,” said Chandell Stone, CEO and co-founder with Seth Andrew.

Liberation Launch is an associates degree program for students interested in transitioning to a four-year institution. The students will earn their degrees from Doral College while Degrees of Freedom pursues independent accreditation.

Those students, if they are fully Pell eligible, said Stone, will be able to attend with no out-of-pocket costs.

Each course will be taught by two people, an adjunct and an interventionist. Stone said adjuncts will be industry leaders, from top-tier universities, such as Ivy League colleges and HBCUs.

The interventionist is someone with experience working with low-income and first-generation students, a person “who can add value to their college experience from an instructional perspective.”

Stone said Degrees of Freedom was designed with student fellows to help address three challenges facing low-income and first-generation aspiring college students.

“Debt, displacement, and disregard,” she said, noting that 90 percent of Americans who have defaulted on their student loans were Pell Grant recipients.

Stone said that could be because they were matched with a school that couldn’t meet their specific needs, the school was too expensive or they ended up getting degrees in low-paying careers, unable to pay off their debt.

Fellows worked on all aspects of the program, said Stone, including admissions, curriculum and pedagogy, the hiring process, support services, a code of conduct, and restorative and transformative justice practices.

“The fellows were instrumental in building out this program design,” she said.

The fellows came from diverse backgrounds that align with the students the program hopes to serve.

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“They are invested in this idea of giving voice to their community,” said Stone. “As we create our school, it will speak to the needs of that community.”

Participating in the fellowship program were seven former staff and faculty of Marlboro College who taught short-courses for the pilot.

Stone also mentioned displacement, that jobs populated by people who are Black, indigenous or of color are most susceptible to automation, such as office support, customer services, driving, and physical labor.

“The needs of historically marginalized groups have been disregarded,” she said. “How do we provide our students with an opportunity to be able to combat institutional racism and institutional discrimination that exists in a lot of places our students interact, whether that’s getting a student loan, applying for a job, or entering a selective college?”

The aim is to give students the knowledge and tools they need to finish their education in institutions where their needs have historically been disregarded.

Stone said ultimately, Degrees of Freedom is about empowering students from disenfranchised groups and giving them the skills to be leaders in their community, in whatever industry they choose to enter, in public service or in government.

For Freedom Year, Degrees of Freedom will receive funding from partner high schools. For example, said Stone, New Jersey can now pay $9,000 toward a high school student’s Bridge year. High school graduates and GED recipients can get more than $3,000 for each of the three trimesters through Pell Grants, she said.

Freedom Year is open to all high school seniors with a 2.5 unweighted GPA or recent high school graduates and GED holders who will not be enrolled in a traditional higher education program in 2021.

According to a news release outlining the programs, the first trimester of Freedom Year includes a two-week rotation on campus in Vermont to build community while meeting professors and support team members. Programming continues with synchronous online courses that incorporate pedagogy and technology. Trimesters 2 and 3 include additional rotations on campus, courses, and optional international travel as well as an internship in their field of interest.

“Liberation Launch is the DoF signature 2+2 program for students who want to earn an excellent Associates Degree from our partner college before transferring to a selective university program to complete their bachelor’s degree or launch directly into a career that is both sustaining and fulfilling,” states the news release. “Liberation Launch will help ensure students are on the path to economic, academic, and civic freedom regardless of academic background or high school grades.”

The application process goes live on Friday and need-based financial aid applications are due March 14.

Degrees of Freedom is currently hiring. For a job listing, visit the website.

Bob Audette can be contacted