Op - Ed

Higher education is a necessity, not a privilege

By Joyce Judy

In this time of heightened dialogue around the future of higher education in Vermont, I am compelled to reflect on the narratives that inform and affect our students and their families. I am reminded that our responsibility to Vermont’s students is a collective one, and it is in this spirit that I reach out with an invitation.

I’d like to ask business leaders to join me in stepping up to the challenge of revising the narratives we give students about higher education. As employers, you make the strongest case to prospective employees that a high school diploma will no longer guarantee success. We need your help in making sure that families and students from all backgrounds see the value in post-secondary learning. I have always believed that education beyond high school is a necessity for all, and not just a privilege for some. Now more than ever, higher education must be understood as central and fundamental to a healthy economy.

Vermonters are increasingly ambivalent about the importance of higher education. Many elementary and high school students and their families are hearing a college narrative that excludes them. The message is that college is not for them: that they are not smart enough; that their family lacks the money; that a degree is not worth the time or effort; or that if they just work hard enough, they can succeed with a 12th-grade education.

This narrative is overdue for a revision.

In today’s Vermont, all young people need to know – and believe – that continuing their education after high school is not only an option, it is essential. Vermonters know that their communities thrive when the state’s economy is strong, and the state’s economy is strong when employees have the skills they need for the jobs that are available. This begins with the understanding that learning is a lifelong pursuit.

In this state, we’ve long prided ourselves on independence and self-sufficiency. But working in isolation means we’re losing ground: businesses are leaving, and we’re having a difficult time attracting both businesses and workers. Changing the narrative around higher education will depend on greater collaboration between colleges, primary and secondary schools, and employers. It will also result in a greater collective impact on Vermont communities.

Our ability to rise to this challenge affects everyone from the first-grader to the CEO. Post-secondary education decides our ability to succeed; to support families; and to grow businesses, communities, and the well-being of our state.

Joyce Judy is the president of Community College of Vermont.

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