In early 2022, the J. Warren & Lois McClure Foundation announced the Free Degree Promise through the Early College program at Community College of Vermont (CCV). Vermont’s Early College program allows high school seniors to complete their last year of high school and their first year of college at the same time, tuition-free. The Free Degree Promise builds on Early College to give students who continue at CCV the chance to earn an associate degree at no cost.
We spoke with students who are enrolled in the Free Degree Promise, as well as current Early College students who plan to continue for their second free year. Each has their own unique story, but one theme resounds: the McClure Free Degree Promise is a gift, helping young students begin their adult lives on solid footing.
Ahead of the Game
Champlain Valley Union High School senior Aiden Robertson (pictured) has a very clear career goal: he wants to become a financial advisor. Early College, he says, is setting him up to reach that goal by giving him a jump start on his education. For Aiden, it’s about “being able to get ahead of the game—I really like doing that.”
Aiden always planned on going to college after high school, and he’s excited to finally be diving in. “Doing this was like ‘alright, it’s right now, it’s no longer in the future. I get to jump right into college.” He plans to stay at CCV next year to take advantage of the McClure Free Degree Promise and complete his degree in business. For Aiden, the program is a no-brainer, and he thinks it is for others too. “I feel like those two free years could definitely change a lot of people’s lives, especially if they wanted to go to college but they just couldn’t afford it.”
Aiden says he’s been surprised by how much support he and his Early College cohort receive. “I feel like there’s a lot of events for Early College students,” he says, with the message from CCV staff that “‘if you need anything, come talk to us.’ That’s not what I expected…I feel like it’s a good step to making high school students feel a lot more comfortable in a brand-new environment.”
Prepared for My Next Steps
“I want to be a travel nurse,” says Dalya Almogalli. She recalls that in her home country of Iraq, accessing healthcare was difficult, if not impossible. “That’s not how it should be,” she says. “Medical care is an important thing that a lot of people need. That’s something that gives me passion to be a travel nurse—I want to help other countries.”
The Burlington High School senior is now halfway through her Early College year at CCV-Winooski, and she’s learning valuable skills that will help her take her next steps. “I think Early College is really a good opportunity because you’re learning about real college. As a high school student, we don’t know how college works, how professors are compared to regular teachers, how to manage your time.” But Early College introduces students to all of it, Dalya says, so that “when you go to whatever university you’re going to go to, you’re already prepared.”
When she found out about the McClure Free Degree Promise program from her advisor, she knew she wanted to sign up. “I’m going to college for free, getting a free degree, and taking some of the nursing-required classes so when I transfer my credits it’s already done. That’s an opportunity I cannot waste.”
Dalya’s goal, after her second year at CCV, is to enroll in the nursing program at UVM. And she believes that no matter where her path ultimately leads, Early College is giving her a strong start. “[It’s] a privilege to continue my education for another year for free. Even if nursing didn’t work out, you never know, I will still have my associate degree. I will still be able to work in hospitals, labs, and many other jobs.”
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