By Kesey Neubauer, VTDigger.org
One candidate for governor is proposing free college tuition for some Vermonters. Sue Minter, a Democratic candidate for governor, made the campaign announcement Tuesday, June 7, at a press conference at the Community College of Vermont headquarters in Winooski.
Minter said her initiative, “Vermont Promise,” would give Vermont high school students the opportunity to attend the Community College of Vermont or Vermont Technical College for free for the first two years. After that, students would be able to continue their schooling for half the current cost of tuition.
The former secretary of VTrans said her goal is to increase the percentage of Vermont high school students who attend post-secondary programs. Currently, 60 percent of graduates go on to pursue some kind of college degree; Minter hopes to boost that number to 75 percent.
Vermont Promise is “a last dollar” plan. That means the state will cover tuition costs that are not paid for by grants or scholarships, Minter’s campaign manager, Molly Ritner, said. The plan will cost $6 million in the first year and $12 million annually after that.
Minter’s plan is modeled after a Tennessee program that is funded through an endowment. Vermont Promise would be funded by an increase in the bank franchise fee and would impose a new corporate income tax on the state’s largest banks. Minter says the biggest banks in New Hampshire and New York pay a corporate income tax, while those in Vermont do not.
“In my plan, banks pay their fair share, and students get their fair shake,” she said.
Vermont is in the top five states for rates of high school graduation, but has one of the lowest rates of continuation to post-secondary institutions, Minter said. High school graduates who don’t go on to college have fewer opportunities in the job market, Minter added. In addition, workers who hold bachelor’s degrees earn an average of $625,000 more over their lifetimes than their peers who don’t graduate from college.
In order to qualify, candidates must have graduated from high school within a year of applying with a GPA of 2.5 or higher. Each qualifying student must also work with a volunteer mentor who will help students navigate the process of applying to schools and filing for financial aid. Vermont Promise will also help small businesses find qualified workers, Minter said.
Former Vermont State Colleges Chancellor Tim Donovan, who was in attendance, said that Minter is the first of the gubernatorial candidates to make access to higher education a centerpiece of the 2016 campaign.