Shumlin's higher education plan stirs debate - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Shumlin's higher education plan stirs debate

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Class is in session at the Community College of Vermont-- but not everyone is of typical college age.

"I am only sixteen and I just got my license and I just started college," said student Clay Reid. "It's definitely an early start but I feel like I was ready for it." 

Reid is taking advantage of dual enrollment: free vouchers for college classes provided by the state to about 600 high school students. They can accumulate between 3 and 18 credits before they even graduate 12th grade.

"I figured an earlier start is better," Reid said of enrolling in the voucher program. "I had the opportunity to start early, so why not?"

The program costs about $400,000 annually. But it could soon grow. Governor Shumlin recently proposed doubling the budget and the opportunity, to 1,200 of the state's 6,500 high school seniors. While Vermont has a high high school graduation rate, it ranks lower than average for college matriculation.

"We're trying to attract businesses to Vermont and people are trying to bring businesses to Vermont," said Joyce Judy, the president of Community College of Vermont. "Vermont business people are crying ‘we need an educated work force.'  So we've got to do something to help prepare the workforce."

But some lawmakers question the governor's payment plan. For two years the $800,000 will be covered by the state. After that, local municipalities must cover half.

"I think our responsibility in the ways and means committee is the education fund and that's K through 12 spending," said Dave Sharpe of the House Ways and Means Committee.

Sharpe says paying the price for higher education could mean higher property taxes -- which are already on the rise.

"We get very concerned when there are any kind of additional pressures on the education fund that would pressure us to go up instead of 5 cents, 6 cents or 7 cents," he said.

"A $400,000 investment to get more kids going to college is a pretty good investment in skills and building the workforce," said Joyce.

The cost of a course under this program would be $350 if taken at one of the twelve participating colleges, or $150 if taken at a participating high school.

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