Vermont Scholarships Entice Students To Stay In-state
Burlington Free Press – Reported by Terri Hallenbeck
Kelly Walsh thought she wanted to go out of state to college — not necessarily far away — but somewhere else. A $3,000 enticement from the state helped change her mind. She will attend the University of Vermont in the fall and feels very good about it.
Walsh, who graduated Saturday from Mount Mansfield Union High School, is among the first Vermonters to receive a Next Generation Scholarship from the state.
The 18-year-old from Underhill Center is just the sort of person state leaders had in mind when they ponied up $5 million to educate young Vermonters with the hope that they’ll stay in the state. Walsh said she wants to be a nurse and stay in Vermont. If she and more of her generation do that — stay gainfully employed and in Vermont — the state might be able to tilt itself toward a more youthful demographic and a humming economy.
Without a change, there will be fewer working-age Vermonters by 2030 than there are today, according to economist Art Woolf. That means fewer people to fill jobs, pay taxes and support the increased health demands of the baby boomers. Whether the scholarships succeed in making a dent in the demographics depends on whether Vermont generates the jobs that will allow the students to stay here, Woolf warned.
Next fall’s first-year college students are the first to receive the scholarship money politicians in Montpelier have pledged to continue into the foreseeable future. UVM, the Vermont State Colleges and the Vermont Student Assistance Corp. each received $1.6 million this year to hand out to Vermonters. In almost all cases, the money went to students with particular financial need.
A few of those receiving the money said that though the Next Generation Scholarships might not have been a make-or-break factor in allowing them to attend college, the money certainly flavored their decisions and means they should graduate with less debt. At the very least, the scholarship money has the recipients feeling pretty good about Vermont. A few thousand dollars will do that.
Less debt, more freedom
Six students who won a scholarship talked about what it means to them:
The $3,000 Next Generation Scholarship that Kelly Walsh received won’t come close to paying her way at UVM, but on top of the rest of her financial aid package, it helped make it clear to her that the state university was the right place for her.
“It’s definitely why I decided to come here,” she said. Affordability was a priority as she made her college choice, she said.
Her older brother, Kyle, chose to go to Lafayette College instead of UVM because of the financial package the Pennsylvania school offered him, she said. In her case, the Next Generation Scholarship helped make UVM the most affordable option.
Does that mean she’s more likely than her brother to stay in Vermont after college? Not necessarily. Their mother, Sue Ellen Walsh, said both son and daughter have a strong desire to live in the state.
“I really like Vermont,” Kelly Walsh said. “I would probably stay in Vermont if I can find a job.”
Kyle Coulam, 18, of South Burlington applied to 11 colleges, including state universities in California, where he could have qualified for in-state tuition because his father lives there. None of them could match the $22,490-a-year financial package he received at UVM that includes a $3,000-a-year Next Generation Scholarship.
“I’m sitting here mind-blown,” he said.
New York University would have cost him $48,000 a year. “It made me sick for a while,” he said.
Having most of his college expenses covered gives Coulam freedom, he said. He’ll be able to study overseas for a semester and not worry about high debt as he takes his first job after college, he said. “I was going to college no matter what,” he said. “It was a matter of how much debt I wanted.”
Coulam makes no promises that he’ll stay in Vermont after college, nor does his scholarship require him to. He sings the praises of the state’s clean air and Burlington’s vibrancy, but he also has an interest in international business.
“I want to see the world,” he said. “I’d love to live out of the country for a few years and maybe come back, but I don’t know where. It could be Vermont.”
Mary Gagne, 18, of Swanton watched her older brother, Eddie, struggle with college debt and heard young teachers at Missisquoi Valley Union High School talk about paying off their student loans. She wanted no part of it.
“It wouldn’t have prevented me from going to college,” she said. “I just wanted to start out not so in debt.”
She will follow her mother’s footsteps to study physical education at Lyndon State College with the help of a Next Generation Scholarship that pays $1,000 her first year and increases by $500 each year after that.
Gagne searched for scholarships, applying for 39 of them. The Next Generation money was the easiest to land — coming automatically through her application to Lyndon State.
“It makes a huge, gigantic difference,” said her mother, Jean Gagne.
Mom is a teacher at MVU. Dad is a farmer who suffered a setback when his barn burned a few years ago. “There’s very little money and tremendous debt,” Jean Gagne said. “Every penny is accounted for and hard to find.”
Greg Lamoy, 17, of Essex didn’t think college would be possible. He’s been living on his own, officially emancipated from his parents, for more than a year, he said.
A $1,500 Next Generation Scholarship, combined with other financial aid, will allow him to attend Castleton State College. “It definitely helped a lot,” he said.
Lamoy, who wants to be a psychologist, said he might go out of state for graduate school, but he hopes to settle in Vermont. “It’s a nice area. It’s not very crowded, the air’s clean, people are friendly.”
Many of Jennifer Ballard’s friends are forgoing college because of the cost, she said. The 17-year-old from Winooski accumulated $12,000 a year in scholarships, including $1,000 a year through VSAC, that will allow her to take a different route.
“I had no clue I’d get this much,” she said.
Ballard will attend Community College of Vermont in Burlington in hopes of transferring to a four-year college and becoming a social worker in Vermont. “I need to have a college education,” she said.
Kyla Jaquish, 18, of South Burlington had already decided to go to Green Mountain College in Poultney when the letter came from VSAC telling her she’d won a $1,000 Next Generation Scholarship.
“I was definitely going to go whether I could afford it or not,” she said. The extra money means she’ll have a little less debt.
In her case, because she received the money through the lending institution VSAC, the scholarship would have applied no matter where she went to college — in Vermont or elsewhere. Jaquish considered out-of-state colleges, but Vermont won out as she chose Green Mountain. She hopes to stay in the state for a career related to the environment.
Meeting the goal
The idea behind these scholarships, created by Gov. Jim Douglas and the Legislature last year, was to make sure Vermont’s aging population had enough young people who could hold down jobs necessary to keep the economy going.
“Statistically, you’re much more likely to get a job within 50 or 100 miles of where you go to college, so to keep you here is a primary goal of the Next Generation Scholarships,” said Jason Gibbs, spokesman for the governor.
House Speaker Gaye Symington, D-Jericho, said they aren’t intended to solve the whole problem. “I think it’s a small piece of the goal,” she said. “I think it sends an important message.
Woolf, an economics professor at the University of Vermont who studied the economic implications of the state’s changing demographics, has reservations. “I think the hope of the program is that more people attending schools in Vermont will be more likely to stay in Vermont, and there’s a real stretch,” he said. “It’s not going to encourage them to stay unless there’s a reason for them to stay.”
That means the state needs more well-paying, interesting jobs, places to live and entertainment — all the things a young adult is looking for, he said. Anybody who thinks Vermont can rest on the laurels of making all those best-places-to-live lists should look at the hard numbers, Woolf said. Those show that people aren’t moving to Vermont in droves. Instead, in the last two years, more people have moved to other states than from them into Vermont, he said.
Scholarships targeting Vermonters who might stay in the state are one part of the solution, he said. “There’s lots of other things we need to do.”
WHO SPLITS THE COLLEGE CASH
The three entities that received the state’s Next Generation Scholarship money — the University of Vermont, Vermont Student Assistance Corp. and the Vermont State Colleges — decided how to divvy up the funds among incoming students. In most cases, the students didn’t apply directly for the scholarships, but became eligible through their college application. That process could change next year as the legislation governing the scholarships changes.
At UVM, 308 Vermonters received some of the money. Those who received a $1,000-a-year Patrick Scholarship for being in the top 20 percent of their high school class and had financial need were chosen to receive $3,000 in Next Generation money, said Susan Wertheimer, interim dean of admissions. A few others who were good students but didn’t qualify for merit funding received $1,000 a year in Next Generation money, she said.
VSAC is giving $1,000-a-year scholarships to 400 first-year students who had no family financial contribution, spokeswoman Irene Racz said. Students receiving the money through VSAC can use it at any college, in-state or out.
Vermont State Colleges are handing out 260 scholarships for up to $2,500 a year, depending on the college. Castleton, Johnson and Lyndon state each have 40 scholarships. Vermont Technical College and Community College of Vermont each have 70 available. The scholarships take financial need and academic potential into consideration.