VSAC Celebrates Anniversaries of Its Major College Planning Programs
As events continue to unfold in Washington that could alter the scope of the Vermont Student Assistance Corporation, the nonprofit organization took time recently to recognize the anniversaries of its major college planning programs.
For 40 years, VSAC has provided Vermonters with individual counseling through TRiO, a group of programs that use a combination of federal and VSAC funds to help low-income, first-generation, college-bound students prepare for and succeed in education or training beyond high school.
Ten years ago, Vermont was among the first states to receive funding through GEAR UP, another federal-VSAC partnership serving disadvantaged students. GEAR UP was created by former U.S. Sen. James Jeffords of Vermont.
It was also 10 years ago that VSAC launched the Vermont Higher Education Investment Plan, the state’s official “529 college savings plan.” By providing federal and state tax incentives for families to save for higher education, the plan aims to reduce dependence on borrowing and make college more attainable.
Two members of Vermont’s congressional delegation, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Peter Welch, joined other dignitaries — as well as participants, alumni, and staff of VSAC’s college planning programs — at a gathering to underscore the importance of these services to Vermont.
Rep. Welch recently went to bat for VSAC during U.S. House action on a bill that would dramatically alter VSAC’s ability to continue offering comprehensive college planning and financing assistance to Vermonters. The bill has moved to the U.S. Senate, where Sen. Sanders, a member of the committee overseeing education matters, will play a pivotal role in the legislative outcome.
In remarks at the event, Sen. Sanders thanked VSAC for its “exemplary service,” and noted that college access programs such as VSAC’s result in low-income students enrolling in college at rates that exceed the average for all students. He promised to lead efforts in Washington to ensure that nonprofits like VSAC can continue to do their important work.
Rep. Welch said in “story after story,” the delegation in Washington hears from Vermonters who value the services VSAC provides, not just in helping people finance college but in the career and college counseling arena as well. He said it’s important for Congress to “restrain the bad behavior” among a few education loan providers elsewhere while rewarding nonprofits like VSAC “that have been doing it the right way.”
John Tracy, representing the office of U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, and Vermont Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin, speaking on behalf of state legislative leaders, added their words of support. Shumlin said the VSAC model is an example for the whole country, and shouldn’t be discarded as part of national reform efforts.
Don Vickers, president and CEO of VSAC, noted that VSAC’s participation in TRiO and GEAR UP has resulted in nearly 50,000 Vermonters a year receiving a wide array of career and college planning information and advice. Likewise, by offering the higher education investment plan, VSAC helps thousands of Vermont families to create a better foundation for their children’s futures.
With the number of high school graduates in the state expected to decline during the next decade, the state has set a goal of dramatically increasing the number of Vermonters pursuing education or training beyond high school. Without the college planning programs VSAC offers, Vickers said, that goal will be more difficult to achieve.
Vickers’ comments were echoed by several individuals who attended the event to speak about the ways VSAC’s college planning programs had helped them. One participant, a single mother who had previously been on public assistance, talked about the help she received to not only achieve a bachelor’s degree but to earn a master’s and then put her own children through college. “The process seems hard,” she said, “but VSAC takes away all the uncertainty and provides hope and confidence.”