Opportunities, challenges identified for workforce development
The Vermont Student Assistance Corp. released a study this week that examines postsecondary enrollment and completion patterns among Vermont students at two-year schools. This follow-up study of the Vermont high school class of 2012 examines such themes as preparedness for college, full-time versus part-time enrollment, and barriers to degree completion. The study also identifies some significant areas of opportunity for future investment, particularly in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Adults tend to enroll in short-term college programs during times of recession, and younger, traditional-aged students often choose two-year programs when they wish to remain closer to home, according to the study. Both of those circumstances are running strong now because of the pandemic, which suggests that we may see an uptick in enrollment in two-year programs.
“This study is coming at a critical time,” said Scott Giles, president and CEO of VSAC. “Two-year degrees enable Vermonters to learn essential and marketable skills quickly, so they are an incredibly efficient path to the job market. These programs are a powerful tool that we need to understand and nurture, especially right now, as we look to position ourselves for a robust economic recovery after Covid-19,” he said.
However, the study also identifies several challenges. Chief among those is the low degree-completion rate. The study found that full-time students are more likely than their part-time counterparts to complete their studies and earn their degrees, and yet, among full-time students, only 17% had obtained their degree within two years. That number increases to 29% after three years and 33% after four years, but still indicates there is significant room for improvement, especially if rapid injection of skilled workers into the economy is an overarching goal.
As for how institutions can potentially boost their graduation rates, the study points to programs that address the demographic challenges that tend to prevail among two-year-degree students: the fact that most are first-generation college students (the first in their families to attend college), and the fact that many leave high school underprepared, academically, for college work. Programs that offer intensive advising and support services on-campus show a great deal of promise in terms of increasing retention and graduation numbers.
“We hope this study will serve as a helpful tool for policymakers, legislators, and other state leaders as important conversations take place about the future of higher education in Vermont,” said Giles. “This next year will likely represent a time of tremendous change and evolution for higher ed institutions in our state, and we’re happy to provide strong, quantitative data that can serve as the foundation for thoughtful decision-making and investment.”