From the start, Kristen Burns knew she wanted to attend CCV. “I always wanted to work full-time and CCV always promoted how they can work with your schedule…it’s been really nice having the online classes you can do at your own pace,” she said. Kristen is pursuing the early childhood education program at CCV while working at Autism Care Partners, a behavioral health organization where she supports children with autism. “I love seeing their growth and their development and seeing them hit milestones,” Kristen said.
While each student’s college journey is as unique as their passions, and there are many personal considerations that go into the decision to pursue postsecondary education, there is one common barrier that nearly everyone faces: cost.
“CCV very clearly has a mission that’s geared toward being an affordable option for students to pursue their postsecondary goals,” said Ryan Dulude, CCV’s director of financial aid. In an effort to achieve this mission, and to help prepare Vermonters for the workforce, CCV and the Vermont Student Assistance Corporation (VSAC) are offering the 802 Opportunity Grant.
This program provides Vermonters with a family income of $75,000 or less a tuition- and fee-free college education. Made possible by generous support from legislators and the governor, the grant is available to students who enroll in one of CCV’s degree or certificate programs and do not already have a bachelor’s degree. “The biggest impact for students is that it can help them remove the anxiety of ‘how am I going to pay for college? And pay for my rent, and food, and for my family?’” Dulude said. “The idea of students not having to take out debt is huge.”
Kristen has used the grant to reach her goal of working with children; it has made a big difference in her life as she works to make a difference in theirs. “The 802 Opportunity Grant really helped me because it allowed me to still afford to take CCV classes and not pay the full bill. Luckily it’s broad enough that [many] people can take advantage of it.”
Allie Clark came to CCV in 2018 to earn a certificate in allied health with the goal of working in the field of mental health. Before coming to CCV Allie attended another university, where she acquired debt. The 802 Opportunity grant covered tuition and fees, helping her cut costs, avoid additional debt as she pursues her degree at CCV, and have money to spend on life expenses. “I do well for myself, but the 802 money helps pay for my schooling every year. This funding could help so many Vermonters,” Allie said. She earned her certificate in the summer of 2022 and currently works full-time as a case manager for Northwestern Counseling and Support Services.
802 Opportunity has allowed 2,109 students who received the grant in the 2021-2022 academic year to overcome the cost barrier of a college education. The number represents nearly half of CCV’s degree-seeking students. Three-quarters were the first in their family to attend college, and 253 students received a CCV credential. “At the end of the day when they’ve graduated and are either moving on to a bachelor’s degree program or they’re going right into the workforce, those students don’t have loans to pay back so their life is going to be more affordable in the long run,” Dulude said.
After being laid off from her job at a violin shop at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, Rachel Currier decided to go back to school and started at CCV in the funeral director certificate program. “Funeral service is always something I’ve had interest in,” Rachel said, and pursuing this program gave her a sense of purpose she hadn’t found with other jobs. For Rachel, it “was a huge weight off of my shoulders to know that [tuition] was something financially taken care of. It allowed me to finish the program more quickly than I would have otherwise.” She completed the program and received her certificate in spring 2022, and is now working as a funeral director.
“The 802 Opportunity Grant has proven that when you make an education more affordable, students will access that education,” said Dulude. “I’m really proud that Vermont is finally doing this for Vermonters and for our workforce goals.”