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Vermont college-going trends have both bright spots and concerns

New VSAC research looks at high school grads two years out

WINOOSKI (November 2, 2015) – Vermont Student Assistance Corp. is out today with the second in a series of profiles following Vermont’s high school class of 2012 and its findings show Vermont mirrors many national trends with some notable exceptions, both good and bad.

Vermont has one of the highest high school graduation rates in the nation, but it lags both regionally and nationally in the percentage of students who enroll in a postsecondary institution. While nationally 66 percent of recent high school graduates enroll immediately, only 60 percent do in Vermont.

Yet, when it comes to “persistence,” or the number of students who return for a second year, Vermonters far outshine their national counterparts: 86 percent of Vermont students continued to a second year as compared to only 69 percent nationally. And, of these students, 75 percent of Vermonters returned to the same school as compared to 58 percent nationally. Eleven percent of Vermont students transferred to a different school, about the same as the national average.

“Until recently, most research and attention was devoted to enrollment rates, but increasingly the focus has turned to how many students actually continue and graduate – an obvious issue with higher education costs, student debt, aging demographics and a struggling economy over the past eight years,” said Scott Giles, president and CEO of VSAC.

“While we see most Vermont students being successful once they get to college, it is concerning that 14 percent of students drop out after the first year. We need to take additional steps to help this group continue their path to higher education and training. Today’s economy demands a skilled workforce. Education after high school is not a luxury; it’s a necessity.”

Despite a lower enrollment rate, Vermonters were much more likely to choose a four-year institution than others across the country – 53 percent vs. 37 percent elsewhere. Nationally, 29 percent of students chose a two-year school while only 7 percent of Vermont students did.

Vermont’s Class of 2012: Highlights and challenges for pursuing a postsecondary education follows students who graduated in 2012 from both Vermont’s public and private high schools and who responded to VSAC’s biennial Senior Survey. Data from the National Student Clearinghouse was used to track their college-going patterns.

Among other notable findings:

  • Postsecondary enrollment varied by county. The percentage of high school graduates who enrolled at a two- or four-year institution ranged from a low of 50 percent in Orange and Lamoille counties to 67 percent in Chittenden County.

  • Differences in enrollment rates between first-generation students and those who are not first generation varied by county as well; the gap between them ranging from 8 percentage points in Essex and Windsor counties to as much as 28 percentage points in Rutland and Orange counties.

  • Sixteen percent of Vermont high school students who planned to enroll in spring changed their minds by fall and did not enroll, also known as “summer melt.”

  • The popular concept of delaying enrollment for an intentional “gap year” experience may not prove to be a good idea: 57 percent of those who took a year off did not enroll by fall of 2013.

  • Students were far more successful in staying in school if they were enrolled full time – 91 percent persisted versus 54 percent of part-time students.

  • Likewise, 9 out of 10 students who started at a four-year school went to a second year as compared to only 61 percent of students who started at a two-year school.

  • An additional 5 percent of the class of 2012 enrolled in college for the first time by the fall of 2013. These so-called “delayed continuers” were more likely to be male and choose a two-year school.

  • First-generation students, defined as those students who do not have a parent with a four-year postsecondary degree, were significantly less likely to enroll and when they did, they were more likely to choose two-year schools in Vermont.

  • First-generation students also were significantly more likely to stay in state than those students whose parents do have degrees.

National data indicate that by 2020 two-thirds of all new jobs will require postsecondary education. The Department of Labor projects that by the year 2022 Vermont will have nearly 10,000 new job openings – due to both growth and replacing retiring workers – that require at least a postsecondary certificate.

Vermont’s ability to fill those jobs is important for the state’s future economic wellbeing, Giles said. “The purpose of this report is to present Vermont’s policymakers with deeper insights into the complexity of the postsecondary experience of our youth, as well as provide information that can help inform decisions about the investment of resources.”

About VSAC – Changing Lives through Education and Training since 1965

Vermont Student Assistance Corporation is a public, nonprofit agency established by the Vermont Legislature in 1965 to help Vermonters achieve their education and training goals after high school. VSAC serves students and their families in grades 7-12, as well as adults returning to school, by providing education and career planning services, need-based grants, scholarships and education loans. VSAC has awarded more than $600 million in grants and scholarships for Vermont students, and also administers Vermont’s 529 college savings plan. Share your VSAC story by email to or submit a video to YouTube. Find us at or check in on Facebook and Twitter. #changing lives

This entry was posted on Monday, November 2nd, 2015 at 10:08 am and is filed under News & Views, Recommended Reading, Research, VSAC News Releases. Both comments and pings are currently closed.