By Kirk Carapezza
Governor Peter Shumlin unveiled a plan Thursday that he says will reform the state’s education system by adjusting it to the learning style of individual students. A key part of the proposal is to expand a dual enrollment program – a system that would allow high school students to complete a full-year of college credits while they’re still in secondary school for free.
Shumlin is rolling out his proposal at a time when federal funding to schools and colleges across the country is in jeopardy, so he admitted the dual enrollment program faces tough financial challenges.
Surrounded by college presidents and chancellors, business leaders and lawmakers, Shumlin acknowledged dual enrollment proposals had failed in previous legislative sessions because this same coalition wasn’t “singing from the same hymnal.”
“But we are now,” Shumlin said. “Because of our extraordinary partners in higher education in this state, both public and private, working together with the folks who are delivering public high school education in this state, we have come up with a system where any high school student will be able to take a college credit course in their high school for $150.”
Also, under Shumlin’s plan, students would be able to take courses at one of Vermont’s state colleges, the University of Vermont or any other participating institutions that want to take part for $350.
During the first two years, $800,000 from the state’s general fund would cover the cost. Then the state would split the bill with local school districts.
Tim Donovan, chancellor of the Vermont State Colleges, said over the past decade the state college system has been building a program that allows students to start college before they end high school.
“We’ve seen the extraordinary impact that has not just on the kids who are planning to go to college but for those who are wavering,” said Donovan, who predicts the governor’s plan will increase college enrollment, in part by making higher-education more affordable for students.
Shumlin denied claims that his proposal would put significant pressure on local governments, saying he hopes 10 percent of Vermont students will take college courses while they’re still in high school.
For the first time in decades Vermont is losing population, and Shumlin said this program would help bolster the state’s economy by producing skilled workers. “The biggest challenge to prosperity in Vermont is having enough trained workers in science, math, technology and engineering to do the jobs that are out there,” Shumlin said.
Sen. Dick McCormack, D-Windsor, is chairman of the Senate Education Committee, and he generally supports the governor’s plan, although he’s not sure cities and towns should pick up the tab after two years. “Certainly the general direction of the governor’s plan is excellent and so is the kind of work that has been done by all the players,” McCormack explained.
McCormack said his committee hasn’t fully vetted Shumlin’s proposal because state senators were tied up all week debating the end-of-life choices bill.