My name is Adriana, and I’m a first-generation college student from a low-income household. Because of this I was not only encouraged to go to college, I was expected to. My parents had seen the struggles associated with not having a degree first-hand. They taught me that through hard work and dedication, I could achieve a post-high school education. When it came time to review my financial aid packages and choose a college, however, it became clear that earning good grades would not be the determining factor in whether or not I would go to college. It would be cost.
Secondary education is essential to succeed in this society. A college degree today is what a high school diploma was a few decades ago. Higher education is no longer optional; it’s necessary. Yet more than half — 63 percent — of Vermont’s high school graduates from low-income families do not continue to college. The story is not much better for those from higher income brackets, with 42 percent of all Vermont high school graduates not continuing to college. They simply cannot afford it.
Why? Vermont ranks last in the nation for state funding per student. That means our tuition is higher here than other state college systems. It is time for our elected officials to better fund our state colleges and help make college affordable for Vermonters.
I have made it work, just barely. I am in my junior year at Northern Vermont University-Johnson, and am double majoring in studio arts and journalism. While I have been able to stay above water, I have seen many of my fellow students drop out because their financial aid bill couldn’t cover all of their tuition expenses. I’ve seen people create GoFundMe campaigns on social media to try and cover expenses. I’ve seen students fail because they couldn’t buy the textbook or the supplies needed for their class. I’ve had friends, full of potential and promise, with the drive to continue their education, drop out because they simply couldn’t afford college any longer.
My college degree will translate into a better career in my adulthood. Vermont is hemorrhaging intelligent, working-age adults because it has created an environment where education is highly valued but unaffordable to access. The fact that Vermont ranks 50th in the nation for higher education funding per student should be unacceptable to every single person in this state. Our lawmakers in Montpelier should also find this reality unacceptable and should find it a priority to right this wrong.
While I cannot speak for every college student in the Vermont State College system, I know we all have this in common: We want to be successful, we want to graduate and we want to find good-paying jobs. Your sons and daughters. Your grandchildren. And most of us want to do that right here in Vermont. These goals shouldn’t be out of reach for Vermonters because our state chooses not to meaningfully invest in our state college system. Increase funding in our state college system and you will receive generations of hard working, successful citizens.
Adriana Eldred is a junior at Northern Vermont University-Johnson.