VSAC Gears Up to Assist Vermonters This School Year
By Don Vickers
The school year has begun, and Vermont Student Assistance Corporation (VSAC) is once again available to provide statewide services to families, new or continuing college students, and adult learners.
Saving for College
September is College Savings Month — an ideal time for parents, grandparents, or others to open an account in the Vermont Higher Education Investment Plan (VHEIP). VSAC administers this “529” college savings plan on behalf of the state of Vermont.
VHEIP offers six investment options, affordable minimum contributions, and state and federal tax benefits. Vermont taxpayers contributing to VHEIP by the end of December can apply for a state income tax credit when filing their 2011 returns.
Already a low-fee plan compared with other 529s throughout the country, VHEIP reduced fees on most options two years ago. Fees on the most popular investment option dropped further when overall VHEIP assets hit $150 million earlier this year.
Career and College Planning
VSAC offers college planning and career exploration information through online resources, a lending library, print publications, and personal assistance.
Families can consult our newly updated planning guide for grades 7–12, attend free workshops at schools throughout the state, and visit www.vsacroadmaps.org to access timely tips and sign up for e-mail reminders. A separate handbook is available for adults interested in exploring careers and seeking education or training.
Our popular College Pathways program, designed for high school sophomores, juniors, and parents but open to any prospective student, will be held at three locations in 2012: March 17 at Saint Michael’s College, March 24 at Castleton State College, and March 31 at Lyndon State College.
Our roving Start Where You Are “opportunisto” will continue to visit schools and teen centers throughout the state to encourage all Vermonters — not just those who consider themselves “college material” — to consider education or training beyond high school. Our award-winning companion Web site (www.startwhereyouarevt.org) has interactive features for teens and resources for professionals who assist students with career planning.
In addition, we invite schools, libraries, and other organizations to embed our “widget” on their Web sites, providing a direct link to frequently updated information from our site.
Funding for Education or Training
Although VSAC no longer offers new federal education loans, we continue to administer the state grant program for eligible students pursuing full-time, part-time, or non-degree study; about 150 scholarships available to Vermonters; and non-federal student loans. We also service an existing loan portfolio worth $1.9 billion.
VSAC has awarded all scholarships for the 2011–12 college year. However, students still in need of grant or loan assistance — or contemplating spring enrollment, rolling admissions schools, or training programs — can visit our Web site to complete necessary applications.
Students and families seeking funding for the 2012–13 college year can consult our newly updated paying for college guide and attend one of our presentations, held from late September through early January at high schools throughout Vermont. For dates and times, check our online calendar at www.vsac.org/events. A condensed version of our paying for college presentation will also be available at www.vsacworkshopsonline.org.
Our revised scholarships booklet for Vermonters will be available online in October, and we encourage students to begin researching scholarships at that time. Families who want a print version can contact VSAC in early November.
After January 1, families of students attending college in 2012–13 should fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) — required for anyone who wants to be considered for federal grants, loans, and work-study — and the Vermont grant application. VSAC helps families complete these applications at “forms nights” at many high schools.
Although VSAC has become a leaner organization in the wake of changes in the federal education loan programs, we remain Vermonters’ comprehensive source of education and career planning assistance. We are pleased to continue serving the mission the state established for us in 1965: to help Vermonters access the information and financing they need to pursue education or training beyond high school.
Don Vickers, a resident of Georgia, VT, is the president and CEO of the Vermont Student Assistance Corporation.