Promise scholarships

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(HOST) There’s been a lot of discussion lately about how to keep young Vermonters from leaving the state for eductation and employement. Governor Douglas thinks that in-state college scholarships would help, and Vermont Tech President Ty Handy agrees.

(HANDY) If you’re a parent, I’m sure you’re intimately familiar with the personal debates that go on in our homes over how to manage the expense of sending a son or daughter to college. College is a major investment and many of us struggle to find the right personal answer to this question of affordability.

Recently, this same debate moved to the Statehouse with a proposal called the Vermont Promise Scholarship program. Governor Douglas has proposed a fifteen-year, $175 million dollar program that will yearly fund more than a thousand new scholarships for Vermont high school graduates. Students could use the scholarships to attend any public or private college or university in this state. In return, the student would be asked to work several years in Vermont after graduation. If the student chooses not to stay, the state would treat a portion of that scholarship as a no interest loan.

Now I like this idea for several reasons. First, it’s not just another loan program. These are scholarships that don’t have to be repaid if the graduate stays in Vermont. And, second, because our graduates must study within Vermont, I expect most college presidents would agree with me – this program will help provide a badly needed economic boost for Vermont higher education.

In 2002, over fifty-seven percent of Vermont high school graduates chose to attend an out-of-state college. Statistically, Vermont does the poorest job in the nation in keeping its high school graduates in-state. We should care about this because our children are not returning to Vermont once they graduate. Nationally, about nine out of ten students attending college outside of their home state don’t return home following graduation. Now, I’d like to live near my children when I grow older. It’s too bad that the likelihood that I’m going to have to leave Vermont in order to live near my children is greater for me than for parents in any other state in this country.

And our state’s economy also suffers from this brain drain. Between 1990 and 2000, Vermont had a fifteen percent decline in the twenty to thirty-four year-old population. As Vermont tries to balance the need for jobs with maintaining a sound environment, attracting high tech industries to the state will be a key initiative. But we must have the workers here in Vermont to support these industries. Giving our youth solid economic reasons to study and live in Vermont is one way to stop this exodus of children from the state.

Vermonters pride themselves on being innovative national leaders in tackling social and cultural issues – people willing to consider new ways of doing things. We shouldn’t let political debates overshadow those family debates at Vermont’s kitchen tables. Vermont families need help sending their kids to college and we don’t need more loans.

We need scholarships that will give our kids the opportunity to attend college – and to start their adult lives – right here in Vermont.

I’m Ty Handy of Randolph Center.

Ty Handy is President of Vermont Technical College.

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