Tuesday July 30, 2013

BENNINGTON -- Students in the Green Mountain State are being afforded added opportunities for a postsecondary education courtesy of new legislation known as the "flexible pathways" bill.

A chief highlight of Act 77 of 2013, which was passed in the recent legislative session and signed into law by Gov. Peter Shumlin last month, allows high school students one free college course in each of their junior and senior years.

The state-funded "dual enrollment" option gives high school students a credit-bearing preview of the rigors of higher learning. They may choose to get a jump-start on their future field of study, or test the waters of a subject.

With five college institutions in town, "the flexible pathways will be used well in Bennington. Students will take advantage of it," predicted Jeannie Jenkins, coordinator of academic services at Community College of Vermont in Bennington, where 40 mostly recent high school graduates have taken credited courses over the summer in a variety of offerings.

In anticipation of the flexible pathways bill, CCV offered the choice of a free course over the summer to local area high schoolers and 2013 graduates. (Previously, the community college offered a non-credit Introduction to College Studies course each semester that allowed completers to enroll in a credit-bearing class free of charge. That intro class is now planned to be offered to sophomores.)

While high school students have previously been able to take credited courses, Vermont is now fully funding a course per student in their junior and senior years. A three-credit course at CCV normally costs $761 out-of-pocket.

"This really opens it up," Jenkins said. "I do hope this becomes part of students’ high school careers."

Southern Vermont College Provost Al DeCiccio called dual enrollment a good opportunity for high schoolers. "They’re getting the chance to be exposed to a college-level education," he said.

"SVC fully supports the dual enrollment program, and what the state is doing to encourage students to take a look at postsecondary education," DeCiccio continued.

Despite boasting one of the highest high school graduation rates in the U.S., Vermont’s postsecondary enrollment rate falls below the nationwide average. Both Jenkins and DeCiccio said flexible pathways would open the door to a greater number of students.

"It gets more students entering postsecondary, and it gets more students serious about planning" earlier on, Jenkins said.

"You have nothing to lose doing it," DeCiccio said. Students unsure about college can "see that possibility is in their realm of possibility, and they get excited for that."

Two recent Mount Anthony Union graduates who took CCV’s Current Environmental Issues class this summer called it good preparation for future relevant studies.

"You have to do this, you have to do this," were the words of advice from 18-year-old Heather Foley’s guidance counselor. While the one-week intensive issues class fit into her planned Environmental Sciences major at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y., this fall, "there was a whole page of things to choose from," Foley said.

Catarina Hulbert, 19, took the same course and "signed up because I have an interest in helping out the environment."

"I feel like it gave me a better sense of what I want to do in the fall ... and a better sense of what the issues are," said Hulbert, who plans to begin at CCV and then transfer to University of Vermont for Environmental Studies.

Foley said the summer class involved a lot of field trips and reaffirmed her chosen studies. "My feelings with environmental science are pretty good. I’m hoping to stay that way in college."

Dual enrollment scheduling can be a little complicated, with Jenkins saying high school students need to build the college courses into their program of study. But "the students have melded into our summer student population very nicely," she said. "Students for the most part have moved to using planners and managing their time and doing what needs to be done."

"Kids know they’re supposed to go to college, but the transition from high school to college feels like a really huge step," Jenkins said. "This hopefully demystifies the process."

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