Limiting portable grants hurts options for low-income students — Julia Tabor

Three thousand eight hundred low-income college-bound Vermonters take part in a grant program administered by the Vermont Student’s Assistance Corporation, drawing from the Vermont Education Fund. These grants currently help subsidize the post-secondary educations of many low-income Vermonters seeking their first bachelor’s degree.

To be considered, students must demonstrate financial need. These grants are “portable” in the sense that they can be administered to any school in any state that meets VSAC’S funding criteria.

Recently, Sen. Phil Baruth, D/P-Chittenden, introduced legislation to limit these grants to in-state schools. This would radically curtail opportunities for thousands of high achieving, but low-income Vermont students.

In an era when low-income Vermont students already face systematic barriers to post-secondary access and local employers cherry-pick the very best candidates from a host of pedigreed applicants (many of whom earned prestigious degrees out of state), now is not the time to restrict access to grant portability.

I know this from experience, as I was one of a fortunate crop of low income Vermonters to access the grant portability program and attend McGill University in Montreal. There I was able to participate in two state-of-the-art research programs not currently available in Vermont colleges or universities. This is not to malign our local institutions; it is simply a fact “that there are at least 330 programs that Vermont students would not have access to if portability were to be eliminated,” to quote Scott Giles, VSAC president.

Choice empowers success. When a college or university creates new and innovative programs it makes zero sense to restrict access to the children of top-tier wage earners. Yet, the recent proposals to limit Vermont grants to local institutions effectively say this is the way we as voters see things.
If more states put limits on portability the way Baruth is proposing, we would effectively see these limits set in place.

My grandmother, grandfather, and all eight of my mother’s siblings attended the University of Vermont; so I am aware that you can receive a quality education in state. However it was not the case that UVM, Castleton University, Champlain College, or any of the other local institutions I researched offered the courses I needed to be a competitive applicant in my field. Until it is the case that our state becomes a leading-edge provider of education in robotics, mineral engineering, urban planning, sound design and fashion, you are telling low-income students from Vermont with a passion for these careers that they are simply out of luck.

Finally, you are not going to solve brain drain by limiting opportunity. To remove an incentive like grant portability that many Vermont high school students use to motivate hard work and success in the GPA arena is not the solution to the brain drain “crisis.”

Limiting portability will effectively bring low-income students to the stark realization that although they have a top-tier work ethic, and top-tier smarts, their own state government is limiting their mobility to top-tier schools.

If you want your best and brightest to return, how about diversifying the state economy to reflect career choices outside of tourism and agriculture?

Why don’t we work to put rent caps in place in the Chittenden County area so that young professionals are incentivized to bring their top-tier educations home to roost? Limiting grant choice is draconian and punitive to bright Vermont students who only want a promising future.

Julia Tabor
Sheldon, Vt.

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