Contributed by Lauren A. Curry
Last week right around now I was sitting in the big room at the Capitol Plaza listening to panelists talk about the importance of – and barriers to – postsecondary education in Vermont. Jessica was a late addition to the panel. Her work schedule, like those of many of her peers, made it difficult for her to carve out the time. She’s a recent grad juggling multiple jobs and other responsibilities.
Plus there was a late concert the night before. Oh to be 25 again!
Jessica delivered an important message about what it really takes for a young person with limited financial resources and no family tradition of postsecondary attainment to persist through higher ed. She made many good points about the long and difficult journey, points all too effectively backed up by the numbers:
- Only 60% of VT’s high school graduates enroll in postsecondary education – lowest in New England.
- Low-income students here fare by far the worst – just 37% persist beyond high school.
- Fully ¼ of Vermont’s Class of 2012 high school graduates aspired to go to college but never made it.
And at what cost?
National estimates suggest that in just the next few years 2/3 of all jobs will require some amount of postsecondary education or training. In Vermont, if current trends continue, our failure to meet that demand is expected to result in tens of millions of dollars in lost revenue and increased Medicaid and corrections spending. I hesitate to imagine the impact on the non-profit and human services safety nets – already dramatically over-stressed and under-funded.
People in Vermont and elsewhere across the country have decided bold action is required. The Lumina Foundation, one of our nation’s largest education funders, is underwriting state-level teams undertaking important goal setting and strategy development work to that end.
The folks gathered at the Capitol Plaza last week were there as part of an exciting new phase in that effort. We witnessed the launch of the appropriately-named Advance Vermont initiative, calling for a shared commitment to ensure that by 2025, 70% of working-age Vermonters have a quality postsecondary credential.
Meeting this goal will require effectively doubling the number of Vermonters earning diplomas and certificates each year. It will mean re-engaging the nearly 60,000 Vermonters who now have some postsecondary education but no degree. It will also mean significantly upping our postsecondary preparation game, by strengthening PK-12 pathways, investing in supportive community-based programs, and helping families envision and pay for higher education with their kids.
Crucially, it will also mean we beat New Hampshire’s goal by 5%.
[I’m allowed to pick on New Hampshire. I grew up there and recognize Vermont’s superiority in all things. Except grandmothers. I do think NH claims the best of those. Hi mom!]
This brings me back to one of the things Jessica talked about in her remarks last week. After describing the kinds of barriers she faced on her journey in education, and the kinds of challenges she continues to deal with even now on the far side of her degree, she cautioned the room not to see postsecondary enrollment as any kind of finish line.
“Just because someone makes it to college and gets a degree doesn’t mean factors [related to being low-income] disappear.” She articulately described the ongoing struggle, and argued that low-income students, wherever they are on the educational continuum, need support.
They need support.
So let’s give it to them. In all kinds of forms from all kinds of people and at all the different waypoints along the road.
The Tarrant Foundation is committed to supporting youth resilience and aspiration, and employment training for working-age adults in partnership with some great non-profit organizations all around the state. We’re also committed to keeping kids engaged during the pivotal middle school years through our partnership with the Tarrant Institute for Innovative Education at UVM.
What’s your commitment?
Together we can meet this challenge. We must, and we can.
Note: All citations are from Advance Vermont’s recent publication, “A call to action.” Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like a copy or more information on a specific reference.
Lauren A. Curry has been Executive Director of the Richard E. and Deborah L. Tarrant Foundation since 2005.