By JONATHAN ALVIN
As a young and native Vermonter who is committed to this state, it has been frustrating to watch many of my peers leave Vermont for more affordable college opportunities.
I know this frustration is shared and felt by many Vermonters. These include small and large local business owners and employers who are struggling to find trained or educated employees as well as our policymakers who are struggling with the ramifications of an aging population.
Our policymakers have the power to do something about this. Vermont’s elected officials can begin to reverse these scary demographic trends in one aspect by making college more affordable. According to the Vermont Agency of Education, for the past 10 years over 40 percent of Vermont’s kids don’t go on to college. We have one of the lowest high school continuation rates in the country.
According to the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association, Vermont gives the least amount of money to our state colleges than any other state in the nation. This is a large factor in the low continuation rate. For a state that wants to be a leader of a technological future, this doesn’t seem to be a step in the right direction.
Vermont’s future workforce is here, within the Vermont State College System. Vermont companies want more of our graduates, but our state colleges can’t produce them because of the immense debt students have to take on. As a result, these potential students are deterred from attending our state schools and Vermont loses all kinds of skilled labor and young families.
After graduating from Hartford High School, I began taking classes full time at Community College of Vermont. Full-time turned into being part-time and part-time fell to working full-time to make up the money I spent on classes.
I then joined the Vermont Air National Guard as a traditional guardsman in late 2013 and deployed soon after completing my training. After returning, I decided to apply and attend Vermont Tech College.
As a renewable energy student, I’d love nothing more than to finish my degree, stay in my home state, and use my new skill set to help Vermont reach the goal of 90 percent renewable energy by 2050. But if I cannot sustain myself within Vermont, I will have to follow the example of many young people before me and search for more affordable opportunities elsewhere.
My experience is all too common for young Vermonters. Most of my fellow students would love to stay in this state, but we all share the stress of trying to pay for college. It’s constantly talked about and on our minds, while we’re on and off campus. VTC and other state colleges are the best options for many of us, but we struggle to afford them.
We are kids straight out of high school; we are veterans; we are parents trying to better ourselves for our children. What ties us all together is our shared desire to learn, live and stay in Vermont.
This desire to live and work in Vermont should be encouraged not discouraged by our state’s policymakers. Politicians verbalize their efforts to reversing the “brain drain” and attracting and keeping young people in Vermont. It is time they back their statements up with action and make serious financial commitments to our state college system.
By making a meaningful investment in our Vermont State Colleges, we can help young Vermonters afford college and stay in state and provide our employers with a skilled workforce. If Vermont does right by its students, these students will stay and make Vermont an even better place to live and work for future generations.
Jonathan Alvin, age 25 of Hartford, Vt., goes to school full-time in Randolph Center and is a part-time member of the Vermont Air National Guard.