By Marilyn Cargill
For Vermont students to be prepared for tomorrow’s jobs, all pathways must lead to a credential with labor market value, such as a certificate, associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree.
Good jobs that once only required a high school education have mostly disappeared and that trend is likely to continue. The jobs that have taken their place are in fields like health care, information technology, business services – and yes, manufacturing and construction. And, according to Vermont employers all require more than a high school education.
It is estimated that by 2025 almost 70 percent of all new jobs in Vermont will require education and training beyond high school. Students continuing their education is not a luxury, it is a necessity. Four out of five jobs lost during the Great Recession were held by Vermonters with a high school education or less.
The U.S. economy has added 11.5 million net new jobs for workers with postsecondary education since 2011, but only 80,000 for those with a high school diploma or less. In short, recovery from the Great Recession has not been possible for those who have not continued their education and training after high school.
We know that too many students don’t start the process of pursuing education after high school because they don’t believe they can afford it. Other students, including adult students, may begin their college career but don’t apply for financial aid and frequently need to leave school without completing their degree due to the financial burden placed on their families.
In Vermont, only about 55 percent of high school seniors file a FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This means eligible Vermonters lose out on an estimated $4.7 million in federal Pell grants every year, or about $3,564 annually per student, according to Nerdwallet.com. Students who don’t file a FAFSA also may be missing out on the Vermont state grant, which on average, offers an additional $1,800 annually to cover college costs. And this does not include any aid from their school.
To help encourage high school seniors to take the first steps to continue their education VSAC is sponsoring a FAFSA Completion Challenge with all public and private high schools in the state. The challenge is this: every high school that has 70 percent (or better) of their seniors completing a FAFSA will be entered in a drawing for $1,000 for a school-approved senior class activity. Last year 14 high schools state wide met this goal.
Vermont needs everyone’s efforts to make sure that all students, who plan to continue their education after high school, or adults who are considering further education, file the FAFSA, keeping the door open to educational opportunities.
There is help for families who are concerned about the complexity of the applications or fear getting it wrong. Families can get questions answered and help filling out the FAFSA at VSAC. We host FAFSA Fridays where you can walk in to our Winooski offices or call our toll-free helpline at 888-943-7301. We’ve also scheduled two Thursday nights – Feb. 1 and Feb. 8 – if after work is more convenient.
Marilyn Cargill is vice president of financial aid services, marketing and research for Vermont Student Assistance Corporation. She lives in Monkton.