Kyle Hathaway has been working as a chef and cook for more than fifteen years, but needs a college education to chart a new career course. Liz Robinson is ready to pivot from manufacturing to work in an office setting—physical labor is starting to take its toll. Alex Tupper always wanted to go to college but put it on the back burner because it was just too expensive.
Now, all three are on their way to a free associate degree, thanks to the 802 Opportunity Grant. The grant, supported by the Vermont Student Assistance Corporation (VSAC), provides two tuition-free years at CCV to Vermonters with a family income under $75,000. It’s been a game-changer for thousands of students like Hathaway, Robinson, and Tupper, working adults who are balancing the responsibilities of jobs, school, and more.
“To make over a certain amount of money, and to get to a certain place in life, I need to have a college education,” said Hathaway, who is pursuing a degree in IT through CCV-Morrisville. “I think it’s true for even being in the restaurant industry, and I think it’s true now more than when I graduated from high school.” He’s excelling at CCV in part because he can take classes remotely—and because they’re finally affordable. “It’s just really accessible. The online classes mean that I can fit in my course work whenever I have a free moment. My schedule changes a lot as a chef and a cook and it’s just awesome to have that flexibility. Without [it] I’m not sure I would have been as successful. The 802 Opportunity Grant has also been really really helpful…it made it possible for me to return to school and focus on it and be as successful as I have been.”
For Tupper, a supervisor at a Brattleboro-area employment services agency, a college degree represents security. “It really has always been just kind of escaping poverty for me, and doing anything that can further my degree or just separate myself from that ever being a possibility again. It just feels like having that degree, having that on my résumé, just solidifies almost safety for myself.” She’s enrolled in CCV’s behavioral science program, and plans to continue for a bachelor’s degree in human services.
The 802 Opportunity Grant first became available in 2021, and each year it supports Vermonters from all 14 counties and at all 12 of CCV’s academic centers. Three quarters are the first in their family to attend college. Student ages range from high schoolers to Vermonters in their 70s, which reflects the College’s student body as a whole (“you forget about ages because it just feels like everybody is on the same level,” says Robinson, who takes many in-person classes at CCV-Montpelier. And when students are working together “everybody gets so excited—age is nothing. I just find it cool.”)
Like Hathaway, Robinson, and Tupper, many CCV students are working adults who benefit from the College’s flexible course schedules and personalized support. Close collaborations with 4-year colleges in Vermont and beyond give students clear, efficient transfer pathways. Both Hathaway and Robinson are considering continuing their education at Vermont State University, CCV’s sister school in the Vermont State Colleges.
Robinson has worked in manufacturing, in hospitality, and as an LNA, and is now interested in business and accounting. “I really just think with the degree from CCV it gives me all the tools I’m gonna need to be able to move onto something brand new,” she says. “[It] also gives you experience and kind of like makes you confident that you’re gonna be able to succeed.”
Tupper says the 802 Opportunity Grant is a no-brainer. “If I can avoid debt, avoid spending as much money as I can, that is a huge relief to me. I can start a family without having debt hanging over my head, get a house without having more debt hanging over my head…Debt is a huge issue right now for a lot of people leaving school, and this offers an excellent opportunity to avoid that debt.”
I really encourage people to take advantage of it. Why not? If you’re gonna get free tuition and a degree out of it, or a certificate out of it, why not take advantage of it?”
To learn more about the 802 Opportunity Grant, visit ccv.edu/actnow.