Affording college doesn't have to be a dream


BENNINGTON >> As more and more students are grappling with whether or not they will be able to afford college, many pathways exist for area students that they may not be aware of.

Community College of Vermont President Joyce Judy said that, in recent years, students from upper and middle income families are continuing to attend college at similar rates to the past, but lower-income students are going less and less. At the same time, she said, jobs that are being developed are requiring more education, on average, than ever before.

"The divide keeps getting bigger and bigger," she said, "College affordability is very much on our minds."

The school recently announced the creation of a good neighbor policy, which will begin in the fall and will allow students from specific counties in New York and Massachusetts to attend CCV for 150 percent of the in-state tuition rate, rather than the out-out-state rate, which is about double the in-state rate.

"Through conversations and data, the staff at CCV Bennington and around the state have realized that one of the biggest obstacles to higher education is the information gap about sources of financial aid for students of all ages and backgrounds," said Matthew Miller, CCV's public relations specialist, "As so much of the narrative around college in the past few years has been focused on the rising price of higher education and growing student debt, less attention has been paid to the varied financial aid programs."

According to a 2015 study from New America, "nearly half of students (48 percent) with a household income of less than $50,000 were unfamiliar with the Pell Grant, even though U.S. Department of Education data show that 92 percent of students who applied for federal student aid from that income level received Pell."

Miller said the average Pell award for a full-time student this year was $2,450, and 64 percent of Pell recipients in the fall received the maximum award. 76 percent of CCV students who are eligible for Pell grants have enough grants to completely cover tuition and fees, and 40 percent of CCV students graduate with no debt.

Pam Chisholm, CCV's dean of enrollment services, said the first step high school students should consider when applying for colleges is filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which determines students' eligibility for federal aid programs, including Pell. She said many families that fill out the form end up pleasantly surprised. She also recommended utilizing Net Price Calculators, which are available on most college websites, and can estimate what the cost of attending that school will be for the student in question.

Castleton State University also recently announced the creation of the Transfer Success Scholarship, which allows graduates of CCV's associate's degree program to continue their studies at Castleton for essentially the cost of attending CCV.

High School students who wish to get a head start on college can take advantage of Vermont's Flexible Pathways Act, which allows students to take up to two dual-enrollment courses during high school, and even finish their high school diplomas while studying at college full time through the early college program. With more and more jobs requiring a two- or four-year degree, said Judy, "You can't think that you can stop your education at high school. But you don't have to go into debt. There are ways to do this that make it very affordable."

"The investment of time and money is really worth it in the long term," said Chisholm, "They shouldn't be put off by what they see in the media about crushing debt for graduates."

For more information about any of the programs mentioned, contact CCV Bennington at 802-447-2361.

Derek Carson can be reached for comment at 802-447-7567, ext. 122.


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