Janette Bombardier: Getting free college credits while still in high school is a no-brainer

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There is a free college tuition program that still is one of the best-kept secrets in Vermont. Did you know that Vermont students interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) careers can go to college AND finish their high school degree at the same time? Tuition free?

As I attended the 30th graduation ceremony for the Vermont Academy of Science and Technology (VAST) at Vermont Technical College, I was amazed by the students' accomplishments and future plans. Seventy-one bright young Vermont girls and boys were each completing the year with at least 30 college credits in some of the most challenging fields, including engineering technology, biological sciences, and agricultural management. As diplomas were awarded, future college plans for these students were announced at institutions such as RPI, WPI, Clarkson, UVM, as well as our State College System. Fifty percent of the students continue on at Vermont Tech.

As I attended the graduation, I was concerned to see the lack of representation from across our Vermont counties. Our counties with the most population had the least representation in the program.

VAST is an independent, fully accredited high school with the authority to grant diplomas. As Vermont's first early college program approved by the Legislature, VAST students may graduate with dual high school diplomas, allowing the students to stay tied into their sending high schools, play sports, participate in clubs, and walk with their friends at their home high school graduation in front of their community.

VAST provides a unique opportunity for Vermont high school students interested in STEM fields to study in an academically stimulating, hands-on learning environment, all while earning credit (and saving money) toward a college degree or industry-recognized credential. In fact, 98 percent of VAST students complete a degree or credential after the program.

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VAST can open doors for more young Vermonters to pursue STEM studies and careers. It reduces future post-secondary education costs and future debt for participants. Fully enrolled, VAST has the potential for becoming a robust and reliable workforce pipeline for Vermont industry. The majority of them will complete their studies in Vermont, 50 percent at Vermont Tech alone.

As a trustee for the Vermont State Colleges System, I am proud of the accomplishments of this year's impressive VAST graduates and the VT Tech staff who support them. And, as an industry leader in Vermont, I see very clearly the value of this gem for boosting STEM education and building our future workforce.

This opportunity needs to be widely shared and widely offered to all high school students in our state. Please spread the word and see vtc.edu for more information.

The combination of a challenging year of college combined with your senior year of high school at no cost? This shouldn't be a secret to anyone in Vermont.

Janette Bombardier is chief technology officer for Chroma Technology and a member of the Vermont State Colleges System Board of Trustees. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.


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