Op - Ed, Opinion

Legislators called to increase nondegree grants funding

The average nondegree grant is $1,800

By Scott Giles 

Governor Phil Scott’s budget request to invest an additional $1 million in the nondegree grant program will pay off in real opportunities for Vermonters who need education and training for jobs that are waiting to be filled.  In fact, over the next decade, seven out of 10 of the high-pay, high-demand jobs created in Vermont will require education or training after high school, according to Vermont’s Department of Labor. Education is the key to a better and more prosperous life and it’s the most powerful tool we have to end generational poverty and reverse social inequities. But too many Vermonters don’t have the education and training they need now and that will be required in the future for the new workplace. For Vermonters, continuing education or training after high school isn’t a luxury; it’s a necessity.

Preparing Vermonters for the future

Automation and technology are changing the face of the American workforce. Robots now milk cows on Vermont farms. Manufacturing jobs require advanced math and other academic skills that come with education after high school. The New York Times reports that “nearly nine in 10 jobs that disappeared since 2000 were lost to automation in the decades-long march to an information-driven economy, not to workers in other countries.” That’s the economic revolution we live in. That’s the reality we must prepare for. Vermont will need skilled workers who will create opportunity for themselves and for the state. In nearly all cases, that means continuing education and training after high school. This funding will be instrumental in helping more Vermonters have access to education and training right here in Vermont and making it more affordable. The nondegree grant is particularly powerful because it opens doors and transforms lives through education and training. At VSAC, we get to work with adult students and see what happens when they believe in themselves and make the leap. It is inspiring. Today the average nondegree recipient is 33 years old, female, lives in a household of two with an annual income of $20,444.

Vermont was the first state to create a nondegree grant program in 1982 and 35 years later, we’ve helped over 35,000 Vermonters get the education and training they need to further their careers. In fact, demand for the nondegree grant program has doubled in the last decade as Vermonters seek education and training to obtain a job or further their careers. Last year, the program served over 1,700 Vermonters before funding ran out. This program has stayed focused on and committed to unemployed and underemployed Vermont families. It empowers Vermonters to choose the training and education path best suited for them.

This is an incredibly successful program: 6 in 10 unemployed Vermonters who got a nondegree grant last year found jobs, both part-time and full time. An additional 10 percent were in longer-term education or training programs. Those who were employed reported more hours and higher wages.

These results are immediate. Most of the education and training courses are completed within several months as compared to several years. We are seeing Vermonters getting a head start in their jobs and in their future in Vermont.

We have to get better at making education and training after high school an opportunity for all Vermonters – and we need help. We spend more on K-12 education than almost every other state and our graduation rates are among the highest in the country.  But Vermont also ranks at the bottom of the nation when it comes to funding postsecondary education. This puts education and training out of reach for too many Vermonters.

We need to get better at helping Vermont businesses too. Employers can’t function – they can’t grow opportunities — without a workforce that is skilled for the jobs of today and the ones to be created down the road.  We have a responsibility — now — to rewrite the future for Vermont. Let’s make opportunity together with education and training for a new workforce, a new economy, new business and innovation.

VSAC has been in the business of making opportunities for more than 50 years. Our mission is to create opportunities for all Vermont students, but particularly for those—of any age—who believe that the doors to education and training after high school are closed to them. Support working-age adult Vermonters’ pursuit of education and training needed for workforce development by increasing appropriations to the nondegree grant program. We know it works.

Scott Giles

Scott Giles is president and CEO of Vermont Student Assistance Corp.

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