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New Incentives To Keep Vermont Students in the State

When Alexis Hurley was deciding where to pursue her biology degree, the decision was practically made for her.
BURLINGTON - When Alexis Hurley was deciding where to pursue her biology degree, the decision was practically made for her.

"Thinking about school options, UVM was kind of the obvious choice," she said. "Because they offer in-state tuition, and really good financial aid." Still, she'll be saddled with debt when she graduates.

"And if I attempt medical school or other training, there's only more and more impending debt, and you're not sure where it will lead to so it's scary," Hurley said. She's interested in studying obstetrics.

New state assistance is poised to help alleviate students' debt anxiety. The Vermont Strong Scholars program passed the legislature over the weekend as part of a larger economic development bill. Governor Peter Shumlin praised the program at a news conference Monday morning at the VSAC building. VSAC helps Vermont students with college loans and grants.

"The big challenge remains to move more Vermont kids past high school," Gov. Shumlin said.

The Vermont Strong Scholars program is an incentive for students to go college in-state, and stick around after. It offers tuition forgiveness for graduates who stay in Vermont, equal to one free year for Bachelor's degrees and one semester for an Associate's.

"It involves any high school kid in Vermont, going to any college in Vermont, as long as you stay in Vermont," said Tim Donovan, the Chancellor of Vermont State Colleges.

If a high school student plans in advance, they could actually get two free years of college education. The dual enrollment program that passed the legislature last year allows high school students to take up to a year of college credits for free while still in high school.

Vermont Strong Scholars do have to enter certain fields, though the state's Economic Development office does not have a list ready. It will likely include STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields, along with other sectors of Vermont's workforce that needs more educated workers. Graduates will have to work in the field for five years for the state to pay off one year of their loans.

If Alexis Hurley qualifies, it could determine her post-grad path.

"It would definitely be more inviting to stay in Vermont," she said.

The program goes into effect in July 2015.
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