Three alternative college programs for Vermont high school graduates during the pandemic

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The class of 2020 had an unpredictable final semester of high school. As they venture forth into a world plagued by a pandemic, many are uncertain making long-term commitments to higher education.

A recent study shows newly graduated seniors are choosing institutions closer to home, schools to which they would incur less student loan debt and non-traditional paths to learning. Some are deferring college for a year in hopes the pandemic wanes and predictability returns.

Fortunately for Vermont graduates, there are local colleges and programs allowing students to dip their toes in the world of academia, gaining credits without losing flexibility.

More: Study: More than half of high school seniors say pandemic influenced college choice

Summer courses give students a head start

Those looking to save money and time could consider Accelerated Summer College courses through St. Michael’s College.

Students can take two of 30 available courses in each of the two summer sessions: May 18 – June 26 and June 29 – August 7, for “a heck of a lot cheaper,” according to Alex Colletta, who oversees non-traditional programs at St. Michael’s.

Most of the courses receive 4-credit hours at $495 per credit. A person could take four courses and complete a semester worth of coursework (16 credits) for $7,920. The six-week sessions allow a course to conclude in less than half the time, compared to the 15-week spring or fall semester. 

About two-thirds of the courses are introductory level and do not require pre-requisite classes. Students do not need to be enrolled at St. Michael’s, nor complete a formal college admissions process. And, credits are transferable, fulfilling requirements of other liberal arts colleges.

Classwork is made up of asynchronous pre-recorded lectures, some optional synchronous Zoom calls, virtual videos, discussion boards, publisher content and virtual office hours from the college’s professors and adjuncts.

Courses new grads could take in session 2 include General Psychology, Personal Financial Planning, Concepts in Chemistry, Animation and Motion Graphics, Elementary Statistics, Modern Europe, and Christianity Past and Present.

St. Michael’s has offered the program on campus and online for seven years; this is the first year it will be exclusively online. So far, enrollment is up 25%, with 100 more students partaking.

The deadline to sign up for the second session is June 27; find more information and how to sign up here.

Other area colleges offer summer programs at discounted rates; the University of Vermont summer courses are 30% less than academic year tuition.

Gap year with credits for wellness, internship

Delaying starting college for a year provides some students time to consider options  and an opportunity for the pandemic’s effects to lessen.

Champlain College is giving gap year students a chance to try out college and gain credits.

A virtual gap program was created to meet the students’ desire to explore new ideas, and with the inability for students to get to campus right now, “the timing felt right,” said Emily Crist, director of the program.

“This is something we’ve thought about for a long time — how we could play a role in delivering our education to students who can’t necessarily get here or would like to do a gap experience,” said Dr. Lisa Bunders, the VP of Enrollment Management, whose idea it was.

The 15-week course focuses on personal wellness, academic growth and professional experience, for three credit hours that can be put toward a degree at Champlain College or another school. 

The “Mindcraft” course begins with a wellness component where students, who may be feeling a great deal of anxiety, learn from a psychologist and professor about becoming the boss of their brain. That first ten weeks also include a speaker series on big idea exploration and international exploration allowing students to virtually travel the world. 

The last five weeks students would have a virtual internship, working in teams with fellow gap students through the college’s Centers for Experience. The interdisciplinary projects allow them to connect with industry insiders working with Champlain College to gain workplace skills.

Those who want to take their gap year learning even further could add on another 15-week, three-credit liberal arts program to be taken with first year Champlain College students. Food Writing in Montreal or Reading, Writing and ‘Blank’ are classes to choose from, with ‘Blank’ indicating a number of different subject matter courses.

A cohort model puts together a group of 15 to 20 gap year students who will work individually and with one another, while being coached by Champlain College faculty.

The wellness and internship course is $5,000. Adding on the liberal arts course, the total is $6,800 and is eligible for federal financial aid.

The gap year program follows the academic calendar. Classes begin the week of August 31 and the basic application needs to be returned before then. More information can be found on the website.

A spring gap program is also being developed.

More: Coronavirus: New college presidents to lead Champlain, Bennington, Norwich schools, communities

Free college course at CCV

Vermont residents who graduated high school in 2020 can choose to take one of the 800 courses offered by Community College of Vermont (CCV) in the fall for free

Thanks to a grant from the McClure Foundation, the more than 5,000 recent grads can take a three-credit or four-credit lab course without the financial burden. While students can choose which class to take, an academic adviser meeting will help direct learners to courses in which they can be successful.

With more than 12 locations across the state and 50% of its courses offered online (in non-pandemic times), the school feels it can absorb offering a class to every senior in the state.

Since its announcement a week ago, hundreds of grads have filled out the inquiry form. 

CCV courses are transferable to all Vermont colleges as well as many out-of-state. University of Vermont hopefuls are guaranteed admission and $10,000 off tuition when completing their first two years at CCV.

Joyce Judy, president of CCV, said that while college is not for everyone, lifelong learning is. CCV caters to a diverse range of learners and it’s important they can count on the school to meet their needs. 

“We want to introduce some certainty in this uncertain world. No matter what happens in the environment, we can deliver it without having to pivot,” Judy said.

She said the McClure Foundation gift is a wonderful statement to the future of Vermont. 

“We’re going to invest in Vermont’s young people because we want them to stay here, we want them to get the jobs that are available and believe in helping Vermont grow and thrive,” she said.

The deadline to enroll in a free CCV course is September 4. More information here.

More: McClure Foundation gifts free CCV course to all 2020 Vermont high school grads

Contact April Barton at abarton@freepressmedia.com or 802-660-1854. Follow her on Twitter @aprildbarton.

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