RANDOLPH — Now that the money for scholarship opportunities and free tuition at the Vermont State Colleges System has been approved in the state’s fiscal 2022 budget, the system’s leaders urged Vermonters interested in pursuing a degree or skills for jobs in demand to make the most of a once in a lifetime opportunity.
Speaking at a press event at Vermont Tech’s Randolph campus, VSCS chancellor Sophie Zdatny and leaders from all four of the system’s institutions and the state’s scholarship corporation outlined the opportunities made possible by $89 million in state and federal funding.
Those dollars, in addition to meeting the system’s operating budget and funding the first year of its transformation, also fund training and degree programs intended to link Vermonters with the state’s most pressing workforce needs — and rewarding careers with bigger paychecks.
“We are thrilled with the legislature’s support, but even more thrilled by the opportunities these programs provide for Vermonters, Community College of Vermont president Joyce Judy said.
“If you’re a Vermonter looking for a new job or a promotion, if you’re looking for a chance to learn some new skills or interested in changing careers, these programs … are your once in a lifetime chance to really invest in yourself and make a difference in your life’s trajectory,” Judy said.
Leaders highlighted scholarships for out-of-state students who want to return home, for the estimated 50,000 Vermonters who took classes but did not complete a professional credential or college degree.
They also promoted the year of free tuition available for those interested in critical occupations where workers are most needed — nurses and allied health workers, emergency medical technicians, early childhood educators, building trades, manufacturing, bookkeepers and graphic designers.
The funds also continue an initiative started by the McClure Foundation last year, in which every graduating high school senior automatically qualifies for a free class at any state college. That program is available to 2020 and 2021 high school graduates.
In all, more than $16 million in scholarships and free tuition is available to students in the coming 2021-22 academic year. The list of programs where free tuition is available can be found on the VSC website.
‘NOW’S THE TIME’
Patricia Moulton, the president of Vermont Technical College, pointed to those opportunities and to the school’s record of placing graduates in jobs — 100 percent in 2020, she said — as reasons why Vermonters should explore the possibilities offered by VSC.
“if you need credits or you wish to start on a new degree path, or you want to take classes to learn skills, now’s the time, she said. “Seize the day. it’s a great time.”
Plumbers and electricians, Moulton said, can begin an apprenticeship program through Vermont Tech with a free year of tuition and earn while they learn. And the paramedic certificate program lasts three semesters and is offered in Williston and Bennington, Moulton said.
Northern Vermont University president Elaine Collins said the school’s Lyndon campus will offer a year of free tuition for its nursing program. The school’s early childhood education program allows students to gain licensure while working full-time, and allows students to learn online, she added.
Castleton interim president Jonathan Spiro said the university is offering a year of free tuition for its nursing and early childhood education programs, which he hopes will reduce student expenses and provide critically-needed workers.
“Nearly all our [nursing] graduates have jobs waiting for them the day they graduate,” Spiro said. “If the thought of becoming a nurse excites you, this is an amazing opportunity.”
In addition to the free classes offered to high school graduates, Marilyn Cargill, VSAC’s vice president of financial aid services, outlined the 802 Opportunity scholarship, which provides free tuition at the Community College of Vermont for students and families with an income of $50,000 or less.
“We know these programs will provide critical financial resources to make education and training accessible to more Vermonters,” Cargill said. “We also know that it can be complicated and confusing to navigate financial assistance to be sure students and families are taking full advantage of the programs available. That’s where VSAC comes in. We urge students to reach out to us for guidance.”
The Welcome Home scholarship offers up to $5,000 for Vermonters transferring home to VSCS institutions from out-of-state schools, as well as students who left last year due to the pandemic.
Meanwhile, the Degree Completion Scholarship, intended for Vermonters who have taken some classes but do not yet have a credential or degree, covers last-dollar tuition – that is, tuition and fees after state and federal grants – for up to 30 credits in the 2021-2022 academic year.