State colleges offering more than $16M in free tuition for Vermonters

Updated: Jun. 9, 2021 at 5:47 PM EDT
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RANDOLPH CENTER, Vt. (WCAX) - More than $16 million in free tuition is being allocated to the Vermont State Colleges System. A system that is rebounding from a tough financial year due to the pandemic.

It’s not often that a group of college presidents get together to say free tuition for Vermonters. But that is exactly what happened Wednesday on the campus of the Vermont Technical College

“This is an amazing year to be a student in Vermont,” Vermont State Colleges System Chancellor Sophie Zdatny said.

Flanked by college presidents, Zdatny announced hundreds of scholarships that are now available for new or existing students in fields that are in high demand.

“Nursing, educators, these are all areas where the state really needs students to be taking those courses and getting licensed and participating in the workforce,” she said.

The COVID-19 pandemic had a profound impact on higher education. Room and board fees were returned as students went remote and enrollment dropped.

“Financially, it was a very frightening time,” Castleton University Interim President Jonathan Spiro said.

The new money, approved by the state Legislature and signed by the governor, is being allocated from the American Rescue Plan Act. Along with one year of free tuition in those critical occupation programs, like early childhood education, it also gives up to $5,000 to Vermonters transferring home from out-of-state schools.

“And once they try it, they will be hooked up with our financial aid office. They will hear about scholarships, and grants and loans. They will meet peers. They will get internships, they will get work-study on campus,” said Spiro.

“Immediate entry into the workforce and an ability to pursue additional education that will help them further their career,” Vermont Technical College President Patricia Moulton said.

Both the Vermont Technical College and Castleton saw enrollment fall by upward of 15% during the pandemic. Officials say the numbers have started to turn around and the free tuition is an added incentive for students to sign up.

“The thing that kind of keeps me up at night is-- will enough people come? We are ready for you. We’ve got capacity,” Moulton said.

At this time the funding is only for one year. However, college officials are hopeful the program’s success will help to continue the conversation with the Legislature moving forward.

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