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Making a life in Addison County: Hoping for jobs, young adults continue learning

Editor’s Note — This article is part of our ongoing series about the thousands of young adults who reside in the county, how and why they live here. The series includes print articles and multimedia profiles of young adults, now including a profile of Maurice Bissonnette. The 25-year-old lives in Monkton and takes classes at Vermont Adult Learning. This Saturday he’s marrying Emily Watson-Blagden, his sweetheart from Mount Abraham Union High School.  
If you have a story to share about life in Addison County as a young adult, we want to hear from you. E-mail tips and ideas to [email protected] or call 388-4944.
ADDISON COUNTY — As jobs remain hard to come by in Vermont and across the country, increasing numbers of young adults in Addison County are choosing to pursue additional education — often outside of the traditional college setting.
At the Middlebury location of the Community College of Vermont (CCV) summer enrollment has increased from 79 to 135 over the past two years. CCV offers associate degrees, career-related certificates and other programs that many students hope will help them find a job.
And many of those looking to improve their chances of finding jobs are young adults. This past semester, half the students at the Middlebury branch of CCV were between ages 19 and 34.
 “As unemployment grows, more and more people to come to us because we offer them ways to get skills and become more employable,” explained Ann Crocker, the manager of the Vermont Adult Learning center in Middlebury.
Vermont Adult Learning hosts GED, adult high school diploma, and postsecondary programs designed to help students improve their careers or pursue further education.
Postsecondary programs have been Vermont Adult Learning’s fastest growing area because, as Crocker explains, “credentials are becoming more important because of unemployment.”
BACK TO SCHOOL
Earning those credentials often means making it to college — and sometimes would-be students need help making that step.
At Vermont Adult Learning, the “Bridge to College” program helps students with high school diplomas brush up on the skills they need to succeed in college. Crocker described recent efforts to streamline the referral process between this program and CCV.
Once students are ready for school, there’s the issue of finances — so one significant draw of CCV is its relatively low cost. Tuition at community colleges is usually 20 percent of what it would be at four-year state institutions, according to Rick Dalton, the president of the Cornwall-based nonprofit College For Every Student.
Often, students spend time at CCV before moving on to four-year institutions. Moriah Park, 31, of Orwell, took night classes at CCV in Middlebury a few years ago while she was working full time at Country Home Products in Vergennes.
After taking classes for a year at CCV, she earned a degree in elementary education and psychology from St. Michael’s College.
Park enjoyed her experience at CCV, which she said had a different feel than the four-year institutions she’s attended.
“It was neat to have that range of students that really wanted to be there,” she said. “That’s different from what you get in a regular college setting where students aren’t necessarily as motivated.”
Students are finding their classrooms in new places, too: As the demand for continuing education increases, the numbers of students taking classes online have gone up. Last semester, CCV ran 217 classes online, making its website the second largest campus in the program — behind only the Burlington campus.
In Middlebury, 51 students are taking online classes this summer and 12 are taking classes that meet online and on the ground.
DRUMMING UP FUNDS
But services that operate adult learning programs are running into a reality that’s putting stress on continuing education programs through the country: budget cutbacks.
The Patricia A. Hannaford Career Center in Middlebury is a third option for young adults interested in further education.
The center offers vocational training in fields like nursing or computer science for adults of all ages, and the program is also looking to increase training in technical fields. Currently, the majority of adults enrolled in night classes at the center are over the age of 35, according to Denise Senesac, a counselor at the center.
Despite high interest, money is tight. Already, decreases in funding available through the Vermont Student Assistance Corps (VSAC) have affected the Hannaford Center’s numbers.
“Each year the legislature appropriates a certain amount of money (for VSAC), and each year that money seems to be running out earlier,” said Lynn Coale, the director of the Hannaford Career Center.
The career center isn’t alone in watching budget numbers with concern. Crocker, whose Vermont Adult Learning programs are mostly funded through state and federal grants anticipates that her program will come under “severe financial stress.”
A SELF-IMPROVEMENT PROJECT
Although most young adults enroll in these various continuing education programs to work toward their career goals, some take classes outside of the context of their careers.
Maurice Bissonnette, 25, works at the Jiffy Mart in New Haven and attends an open class at Vermont Adult Learning every Wednesday to improve his writing and composition skills.
Bissonnette wants to improve his composition and grammar skills so he can work on the short stories and movie scripts that he writes in the small attic of the Monkton house he rents.
“I really wanted to get a better grasp of the English language,” he said after explaining that he often felt out of place in high school English classes. Already, he said, improving his language skills has made him feel more self-assured.
But also, Bissonnette wants to improve his writing skills in the hopes of applying to jobs, and possibly going to college.
 “One thing that stands in my way is not being able to spell well and feeling uncomfortable writing a letter or a resumé,” he said. “Already, I’ve noticed that I’m spelling so much better, and I’ve been writing tons.”
Reporter George Altshuler is at [email protected].

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