BENNINGTON -- Community College of Vermont President Joyce Judy visited Bennington on Wednesday, and took time to discuss the college's work with high school students, especially in light of the Flexible Pathways Act (Act 77), which was approved by the Vermont legislature and was signed by Gov. Peter Shumlin last June.
"Vermont historically has had a very high graduation rate," said Judy, "It actually has one of the highest in the country. I think what came as a surprise a few years ago to people, is when they started looking at the college-going rate within a couple years, which is one of the lowest in the country. I think people really began to think about, why is that so, and what is going on? So that's some data that has been looming in the background. Finally, when Act 77 was passed, one of the things that Act 77 is really trying to do is to create opportunities to help kids stay engaged with their learning, going through high school and beyond high school."
Act 77 provides for the expansion of the existing Statewide Dual Enrollment Program, expansion of Early College programs, increased access to work-based learning, increased virtual/blended learning experiences, increased access to career and technical education, and the implementation of personal learning plans, according to the Vermont Department of Education's website.
"I believe that college provides opportunity. It doesn't guarantee a student a job, but it opens a lot of doors that otherwise might not be open," said Judy, "At the same time I recognize that college perhaps isn't for everyone right away, but I think the whole notion of continuous education and continuing to learn is something that we're all going to have to embrace. If you look at the sophistication level of entry level workers, it continues to ramp up. In my parents' generation, an eighth-grade education got them a long way. In my generation, if you graduated from high school, you had a pretty good chance of getting a good job and keeping it. Today, people are going to need to think that they need education beyond the secondary level to really keep up with the demands of the changing workforce."
"We see students come to CCV at age 30, 10 years out of high school," she said, "They had graduated high school, or not, and had gotten really frustrated with the workforce. They had been passed over for promotions, they were oftentimes the first to be laid off, it was a very frustrating experience. So we would see those folks coming to us 10 years out of high school, highly motivated and able to quickly make up ground and move on."
"CCV thought a lot about that," said Judy, "and how we could shrink that gap, so instead of seeing people 10 years out of high school, how could we plant seeds while they're still in high school, so that they could imagine that they could be successful in college. So, we actually began work with high school students and dual enrollment, long before it was a trend."
"You talk to high school students," said Judy, "and so many have dismissed the notion of college. They can't afford it, they don't have the grades, socially, economically, whatever, they just self-selected out. As a college, we thought, how could we plant some seeds with that middle majority of students who perhaps aren't imagining that they're going to go to college, and give them a college experience while they're still in high school, and then perhaps a year, two years, out of high school they could think, 'You know, I could be successful in college, and maybe that's a route I should consider.'"
With that in mind, in the early 2000's, the college developed a course entitled "Intro to College Studies," which was targeted at high school juniors. "What we're seeing is, students who go through Introduction to College Studies having a much higher rate of graduating high school and then going on to college," said Judy.
Jeanette Jenkins, coordinator of academic services at the Bennington branch of CCV, explained that in Bennington, the class meets once a week, and currently has about 40 students enrolled, although those students are split into smaller classes of about 12 students each, with sessions running in the fall, spring, and early summer. While the students only receive high school credit for the course, said Jenkins, they "receive all the rights and privileges of a college student. They have access to the library, which is an online library, they can use our learning center if they need extra help, they have a student ID card, so in many ways they start seeing themselves as a college student, because they are."
CCV offers that course free, with the college, the Vermont Student Assistance Corporation, and donors covering the cost. Judy noted that that course often acts as a "on-ramp" to dual enrollment, a program, which is provided for in Act 77, that pays for students to take colleges courses during high school. Students receive two vouchers, each of which may be used any time between the summer after their sophomore year and when they graduate, and allow them to enroll in a college course for which they've met the academic pre-requisites. They also receive high school credit for the classes. "Students don't have to pay tuition to come and take a college course," said Judy.
Judy pointed to two distinct benefits of the duel-enrollment program, the first being that students could earn college credits so that they would have a "bank" of credits already earned when they eventually became a full-time student, which could allow them to graduate faster and save money. "There's another reason for dual-enrollment, which is to allow students to have a college experience, so for those who are thinking that they might not go to college, this really helps them think about that. For students who are thinking about college, it really helps with the transition."
Currently 30 students are taking dual-enrollment classes at CCV in Bennington. Judy and Jenkins both praised CCV for its diversity, with it not uncommon for classes to contain students ranging in age from 16 to 60 years old, and the faculty for making sure that they are all treated as equals. This learning environment makes CCV both for those trying to get an associate's degree after 10 years away from school and those trying to decide while in high school if college is right for them.
Starting in the fall, Act 77 also provides funding for an early college program, which will allow high school students to take classes full-time for college credit, with those credits also fulfilling their high school graduation requirements. While the details of this program are still being worked out, it could allow students to save even further while working towards a college education.
"Families are doing economic analysis," said Judy, noting that CCV offers potential students the opportunity to do two years of college for a vastly reduced price, saying that between the University of Vermont and CCV would practically allow a student to attend UVM for a year and a half on the money they saved from taking their first two years at CCV. "Then if you throw in early college, and dual-enrollment programs, there are ways to put together a college education that students can do and have very little debt."
Derek Carson can be reached for comment email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @DerekCarsonBB.