Only 17% of fulltime students enrolled in Vermont’s two-year college degree programs in two years, according to a Vermont Student Assistance Corp. summer 2020 study.
The study identifies several challenges. Chief among those is the low degree-completion rate.
The study found that full-time students are more likely than their part-time counterparts to complete their studies and earn their degrees, and yet, among full-time students, only 17% had obtained their degree within two years.
That number increases to 29% after three years and 33% after four years but still indicates there is significant room for improvement, especially if a rapid injection of skilled workers into the economy is an overarching goal.
The follow-up study of the Vermont high school class of 2012 examines such themes as preparedness for college, full-time versus part-time enrollment, and barriers to degree completion. The study also identifies some significant areas of opportunity for future investment, particularly in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Adults tend to enroll in short-term college programs during times of recession, and younger, traditional-aged students often choose two-year programs when they wish to remain closer to home, according to the study. Both of those circumstances are running strong right now because of the pandemic, which suggests there may be an uptick in enrollment in two-year programs.
“This study is coming at a critical time,” said Scott Giles, president, and CEO of VSAC. “Two-year degrees enable Vermonters to learn essential and marketable skills quickly, so they are an incredibly efficient path to the job market. These programs are a powerful tool that we need to understand and nurture, especially right now, as we look to position ourselves for a robust economic recovery after COVID-19,” he said.
The study points to programs that address demographic challenges that tend to prevail among two-year-degree students: most are first-generation college students (or the first in their families to attend college), and many leave high school underprepared, academically, for college work.
Programs that offer intensive advising and support services on-campus show a great deal of promise in terms of increasing retention and graduation numbers.
“We hope this study will serve as a helpful tool for policymakers, legislators, and other state leaders as important conversations take place about the future of higher education in Vermont,” said Giles.
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