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Back-to-School: Vermont Leaders Expand Access to Education and Training

By Scott Giles, President

As summer unfolds, students are getting ready for the school year ahead. This year, back-to-school is a bit more financially manageable for many Vermont’s families, thanks to Vermont leaders who made an exceptional investment to fortify Vermont’s economy this legislative session.

Recognizing that sustainable funding for accessible education is essential to address the workforce crisis in critical industries, the Legislature and Governor Scott included VSAC’s higher education access program for modest-income families, 802Opportunity, in the state’s base budget.

This means that Vermonters can count on this successful and life changing opportunity to train and educate themselves for high-demand and high-wage jobs in industries like healthcare, information technology, and manufacturing for years to come. At the same time, Vermont businesses will be able to cultivate a pool of well-trained individuals to fill positions and round out their workforce.

The 802Opportunity program offers Vermonters of all ages with a family income of $75,000 or less the ability to attend Community College of Vermont (CCV) tuition free. The program opens the door to thousands of students, many of whom would have forgone the education or training they needed to pursue their career goals, concluding it is too costly.  

Managed by VSAC in partnership with CCV, to date 802Opportunity has empowered new and returning students to choose from over 30 flexible programs, offered in the daytime or evening, delivered in person or online. These students have pursued non-degree certificates and workforce training. They have leveraged 802Opportunity funds to complete certificate programs, associate degrees, and are applying 802Opportunity funds to the first half of their education before moving on to complete the last half of a four-year degree. Each investment is a step toward a brighter future for themselves and their families.

What does our state leaders’ investment in education and training mean to Vermont and Vermonters? The reach is significant and spans the entire state. In 2022:
•    More than 2,000 Vermonters, from all 14 counties, enrolled at all 12 of CCV’s academic centers using 802Opportunity.
•    Enrollment at CCV of Vermont's most modest income students (those who are Pell-eligible) increased by 17%.
•    75% of 802Opportunities grant recipients were first generation students, 72% were adults, and 17% were people of color or Hispanic.
•    Students were 17 to 74 years of age, with an average age of 30.
•    802Opportunity students majored in Healthcare (25%), Multidisciplinary Studies (17%), Business (15%), Education (14%), and Liberal Arts (12%).

These students are today’s employees and entrepreneurs, integral to our state’s economy. They fill indispensable roles; they give back to their families and communities. Today’s students are tomorrow’s leaders.

VSAC is honored to collaborate with CCV to take the lead in providing equitable opportunities for education. By partnering with CCV to offer flexible and online class schedules at community college campuses across Vermont, VSAC is meeting these students where they are, reducing barriers, and inviting them to succeed. Offering opportunities to raise skills and lower debt for all Vermonters is critical to making our state more affordable, and cultivating Vermont’s workforce is foundational to the future of all Vermonters.

When all of Vermont’s students are given the opportunity to pursue their career goals, all Vermonters have a brighter future.  As the new school year approaches, we thank the Legislature and Governor Scott for working with VSAC and CCV to continue this nationally recognized program so that all Vermonters may access the education and training they need to thrive. Our state’s future relies on proven programs like 802Opportunity, and Vermonters are working together to make our collective outlook even stronger than it is today.

Scott Giles                                                                   
President & CEO                                                         
Vermont Student Assistance Corp.