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Dylan Giambatista

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Imagine being a college student who’s trying to get ahead but faces obstacles at every turn. Maybe it was a late phone bill, an unexpected closure of a child care center, or a failed vehicle inspection that prompted skipping class because there weren’t enough dollars for essentials. Would you be able to continue on without a helping hand? These are the barriers that many Vermonters face as they seek higher education. Fortunately, this giving season we have the chance to provide direct financial support to vulnerable students who are at risk of dropping out by donating to the Community College of Vermont’s (CCV) Life Gap Fund.

CCV’s 12 academic centers throughout the state award Life Gap Grants to address the costs that interfere with a student’s ability to stay in school. These funds are provided on an as-needed basis. Awards are generally $250 or less, but as real-world examples illustrate, every dollar counts to bridge a challenging situation that might otherwise derail a student’s progress. CCV counselors work with the recipients to understand their needs and coordinate resources through community partners. The result is improved immediate and long-term prospects for students who would otherwise face financial difficulty and an academic dead end.

These scenarios aren’t theoretical. The hardship is real and can be deeply distressing. I know firsthand from my experience as a struggling learner and CCV alumnus. I dropped out of a Rutland area high school shortly after my 16th birthday. My path to getting back on track was anything but direct. All told, more than seven years passed from the time I left high school to the day my associate degree was conferred in 2010. I faced starts and stops, worked odd jobs, and dropped out one semester, feeling lost, deeper in debt, and no closer to my educational goals. The sustained support and excellent education instructors and staff provided was the foundation for me to persevere. Their campus doors were always open, and the broader CCV community gave me purpose.

This story is more common than you might guess. The fabled path through high school and on to a four-year degree is less and less typical. According to research compiled by Advance Vermont, 33 percent of Vermont’s undergraduate students are 30 or older. An equal share face housing insecurity, while 35 percent struggle to put food on the table. These students are balancing multiple commitments to make ends meet. Eighty percent of CCV’s 10,000-member statewide student body work full- or part-time jobs while chipping away at certifications and degree requirements. Many of these working students are not eligible for grants, requiring them to take out costly loans.

Students who complete a certificate or degree program meaningfully increase their annual and lifetime earning potential. Where it becomes problematic is when these already-stretched-thin students face tough life events that force them to choose between completing their studies or dropping out, assuming their educational debt with no credential to show for it. In early 2022, CCV expanded the Life Gap initiative to provide even more resources to students. The effort reflects a growing need. Since the pandemic took hold in 2020, students have faced added difficulties and mounting financial pressures. It’s hard to imagine a more challenging time to be an adult learner.

When I heard students’ stories about the hardships they face, I was reminded of my own difficulties and the role CCV played in shaping my future. That’s why I’m urging my neighbors to consider becoming a donor to CCV this giving season. By supporting CCV’s Life Gap Fund, we seed hope for the most at-risk members of CCV’s 10,000 member student body. The impact of your donation will multiply many times over as these students contribute to Vermont in the decades ahead. Please join me in giving the gift of a brighter future.

Dylan Giambatista is a former Vermont State Representative, past Trustee of the Vermont State Colleges System, and alumnus of the Community College of Vermont. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of Vermont News & Media.