MIDDLEBURY — It’s no secret that when people are struggling to find jobs, the demand increases for continuing education; retraining classes, certificate programs and colleges often see jumps in applications.
Over the past two years, for instance, Vermonters have been flocking to Community College of Vermont’s classes in droves to a record 7,300 part-time, full-time and non-degree students statewide, according to CCV Executive Dean Susan Henry.
“CCV has been growing by double digit rates,” she said.
Adults hoping to continue their education have options both within Addison County and outside of it, said Ann Crocker, Addison County regional manager for Vermont Adult Learning.
VAL focuses on getting students up to speed for employment or further education, and it feeds many of its students to CCV.
Students who finish courses at VAL also often look for further education at Vermont Technical College in Randolph, Castleton State College and other state schools, as well at Patricia A. Hannaford Career Center in Middlebury, which offers technical training programs.
Wendy King, a Middlebury resident, is one of the students hoping to enter the system through those means. She is taking math at VAL so that she can begin courses at CCV, and ultimately she hopes to get a nursing degree.
King said she worked closely with both VAL and CCV to get into the right programs, and both offered her a clear view of the resources available.
“Between the two of them, you do have great support systems if you do want to go back into education,” she said. “They basically put the lights on the roadway for me.”
All in all, said Crocker, there are ample opportunities for students looking to further their education.
“Addison County is pretty well known for coordinating services,” she said. “But we can always do better.”
But education isn’t free, and it’s not always easy for students to find the resources and support to go back to school.
“It is hard for people, and they need all the support they can get,” said CCV’s Henry.
FINDING THE FUNDS
Once students have decided on a course of study, there can be financial hurdles. While state-funded colleges don’t carry the hefty price tag that private institutions do, they do require an investment.
Many of the students at CCV — about half, said Henry — receive financial aid from the Vermont Student Assistance Corporation (VSAC), which administers grant, loan and scholarship funding to students seeking to attend college or other post-high school training.
And for degree-seeking students who fall into the lower income brackets, said Henry, funding in the form of federal grants can more than cover the cost of education.
This is an especially good thing for students returning to school after time in the workforce.
Some are still working on the side, and some are trying to support families while working toward a degree.
And not all students return to classes seeking a degree. Some go back to take just one course that will make them more employable, and some go back hoping to transition into a degree program.
For these students, there is a certain amount of non-degree funding available.
“Our program can be used for a course that is going to do either one of two things: make for better employability, or (lead to) further education,” said Marilyn Cargill, director of financial aid delivery and operations for VSAC.
It’s not a huge amount of money, though. Cargill said VSAC receives an annual appropriation of approximately $20 million, which is split into full-time, part-time and non-degree funding, and that the non-degree funding came to approximately $1.3 million this year.
While she said students are still being encouraged to apply for that funding, there is currently a wait list, since all of the funds have been committed. The program began accepting applications in July for the current school year, and Cargill said she is waiting to see how much funding comes back from students who did not, for whatever the reason, use the funding they were allotted.
“If funds become available, we will start awarding,” said Cargill.
Short of that, students will have to wait until next July in order to grab funding for non-degree programs.
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at firstname.lastname@example.org.