Some Vermonters receive free education with 802 Opportunity Grant

For the second year in a row, some Vermonters are able to get their degrees for free.
Published: Jan. 31, 2023 at 7:02 AM EST
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WINOOSKI, Vt. (WCAX) - For the second year in a row, some Vermonters are able to get their degrees for free. That’s thanks to the 802 Opportunity Grant funded by the state to give free tuition to the Community College of Vermont for students who make less than $75,000 a year.

The Community College of Vermont said around half the state would qualify for this free education, an opportunity that 2,000 students have already taken advantage of.

Rachel Currier’s path changed when the pandemic started in 2020.

“I lost my previous job. It wasn’t an essential business, so I got shut down. Around that time, I decided to go back to school,” said Currier.

She spent the last few years completing the Community College of Vermont’s funeral director’s certificate program. Her classes were virtual and she was able to work full time. Now, she’s about to be licensed as a funeral director.

“Had I not been given the time to slow down and decide to go back to school, I wouldn’t have been where I am now,” said Currier.

Currier took classes including effective speaking, human biology, accounting, and business management. And thanks to the new 802 Opportunity Grant, the majority of her schooling was completely paid for.

“That cost is a barrier to college and we’ve learned a really valuable lesson that when you do remove the cost of college, students enroll,” said Ryan Dulude, the financial aid director with the Community College of Vermont.

CCV has had a 10% enrollment increase this past year. Dulude said more than 2,000 students have taken advantage of the grant, ranging in age from 17 to 74. The average student is 30 years old.

The scholarship is paid for by General Fund dollars through the state in its second year. Scott Giles of the Vermont Student Assistance Corporation notes funding isn’t reliant on stimulus dollars.

“Our goal working in the Legislature this year will be to make those be ongoing dollars, not just one-time dollars as was true in the last few years,” he said.

Last year, the scholarship was for those who make less than $50,000 a year. This year, it’s been upped to $75,000. Both CCV and VSAC say they don’t have a cap on how many people are eligible, even with this increase.

CCV says free education is crucial to workforce development in the state. That’s true for Currier who says the funeral industry in Vermont for a long time has been a family business. Now, it’s starting to get new life.

“Now that we have a local school program that’s sourcing other people who are young and interested in and want to be here. We’re kind of having this influx of like, young new people that are meeting the folks that are getting ready to retire,” said Currier.

In his budget address for 2024, Gov. Phil Scott proposed nearly $6.5 million to continue the 802 Opportunity Grant and another scholarship with the University of Vermont. The governor also recommended continuing to make the $1 million investment to continue the scholarship program created by state leaders to make education in the trades more affordable.

Giles says students could use their scholarship at CCV or an adult tech ed center or even an out-of-state program if Vermont doesn’t offer the specialty here.

“This is money that we have available. We have money now. We’re hoping that we’ll continue to have money next year as well to support students that are thinking about pursuing careers. They’ve required training, but not necessarily a degree or certificate,” he said.

The scholarship covers programs that begin on or after Sept. 1, 2022.