(Host) Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gaye Symington has unveiled a plan to get more Vermont students to attend college.
The program would help pay for tuition, and it’s aimed at students who would be the first in their families to seek higher education.
But Governor Jim Douglas’ campaign questioned how the program would be paid for, and why Symington failed to fully support the governor’s own higher education initiatives.
VPR’s John Dillon reports:
(Dillon) Symington said the state faces a steep decline in the number of high school students who can’t afford to attend college. Higher education is increasingly expensive – and she says many Vermont high school students don’t consider college an option.
(Symington) “And they may not be coming out of high school at all, because they lose interest before they get to the 12th grade. I think the statistic of our 9th graders – I believe only about a third of them make it through four years of college.”
(Dillon) So the candidate’s proposal starts in high school. Sophomores would enroll in a three-year program of science, technology and the creative arts. By completing those courses, students would earn one year of college credit in the state college system to count toward their degree. They’d also qualify for about $11,000 a year in tuition assistance for two more years.
The program would be targeted at low income students and those whose parents didn’t go to college. Symington says the initiative should result in a better-qualified workforce, and more young people choosing to stay in Vermont.
(Symington) “This program came … from a number of different conversations. One is from what I was hearing from employers and the need for a workforce with the attitude and aptitude to work.”
(Dillon) Symington says the program would eventually cost about $3.2 million for 300 students. She’d pay for a third of it with state money. The rest, she says, would come from private grants and donations.
(Symington) "This is an example to me of using state government as a catalyst for new ideas, and a catalyst for change, rather than necessarily simply the funder.”
(Dillon) The initiative drew a skeptical reaction from Governor Jim Douglas’ re-election campaign. Dennise Casey is campaign manager.
(Casey) "Vermonters deserve to know why in her 12 years as a legislator and four years as a speaker, Symington has not made the funding of higher education a priority. When the governor proposed his Vermont scholarship program several years ago, the speaker worked to water it down from a $175 million scholarship program open to all Vermonters to a much smaller version – less than a $10 million program – that is today.
(Dillon) Casey said it wasn’t clear how Symington would pay for her program.
For VPR News, I’m John Dillon, in Montpelier.