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MIDDLEBURY — The McClure Foundation is making high school students a promise — The Free Degree Promise.

Free associate degrees from the Community College of Vermont are available for students who graduate high school from 2023 to 2026.

The McClure Foundation teamed up with the Vermont Community Foundation to cover the cost of an associates degree from the Community College of Vermont for eligible high school students.

For the last 15 years, the McClure Foundation has put a spotlight on making paths to education and training more accessible, affordable and visible in Vermont, said Carolyn Weir, the Executive Director of the McClure Foundation.

Their purpose “really stems from a recognition that young people are working so hard in a time of stress and uncertainty,” she said. “Vermont’s high pay, high demand jobs — which largely require education and training after high school — are going unfilled.”

The Free Degree Promise builds on the state’s Early College Program that allows juniors and seniors in high school to take free college courses at a number of universities, including Community College of Vermont.

This allows students who graduate from high school from 2023 to 2026 to enter college with a full year of college credits on their transcripts.

The McClure Promise states that if you take advantage of the Early College Program at CCV, and want to stay enrolled at the college, your second year towards an associate degree will be free.

“We’ve got you,” said Weir.

The Promise includes free tuition and fees, enhanced academic advising, career advising and additional stipends to help pay for books and transportation.

The McClure Foundation is supported by The Vermont Community Foundation, along with about 900 different philanthropies in Vermont. Dan Smith, president and CEO of the Vermont Community Foundation, said the foundation’s purpose is to improve the lives of Vermonters. He works with these philanthropies with the intention of “closing the opportunity gap in Vermont.”

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Smith wants every young Vermonter to know that going to college and furthering their education isn’t a pipe dream.

“Any young person who has been told that a college degree is out of reach in Vermont needs to know that that’s not the truth,” said Smith. “If you’ve been born since 1980, the odds that you end up economically more secure than your parents is less than 50 percent.

“The economic conditions are bad for young people right now.”

Deanna Oakes, 17, is a Early College Program success story. Her free associates degree was a happy accident. She took advantage of the state’s dual enrollment program that allowed her to take college courses her junior and senior year of high school. When it was time to graduate, she already had enough credits for her associates degree.

Now that she has her degree in liberal studies, Oakes is anticipating her first semester at Northern Vermont University this fall to begin her English degree.

While taking courses, which included a Comedy and Humor class, she learned a lot about communication and “how to have conversations with people and make them more exciting, last longer and get more information,” she said.

“I don’t think I have anything bad to say about CCV or the Early College Program,” said Oakes.

Out of the 300-plus students in the Early College Program, about half are enrolled at CCV.

“So that’s about 6 percent of the Vermont high school senior class,” said Weir. “We hope that through this promise, young people hear a similar message of hope and of affordable accessible college and career training.”

Smith hopes this promise “offers inspiration to Vermonters about what the future might hold.”


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