Vermont State University Will Use $1.9M Grant to Improve Access to Higher Ed for Rural Students

A group of three students walking in the snow on a Vermont State University campus.

VTSU to partner with other state colleges, non-profits to bolster workforce and fill high-wage jobs with students from around the state

According to the 2020 census, Vermont is the most rural state in the US, with 65% of the population living in rural areas and 76% of grade 9 to 12 students attending rural high schools. Rural students are currently less likely than their urban counterparts to enroll in and graduate from four-year education programs. In Vermont, only 59% of rural students enroll in higher education, compared to 67% of urban and suburban students. This jeopardizes both the prospects for the students to enter high-wage jobs and also for the Vermont workforce, which has a strong need for highly skilled workers in a variety of fields.

The U.S. Department of Education recently awarded VTSU $1.9 million dollars over four years through the Rural Postsecondary and Economic Development program—the latest is a series of welcome grants obtained by VTSU. The grant is earmarked to fund the ROAD to Success Project, a plan that will, among other initiatives:

  • Help VTSU faculty continue to support rural students who may lack technology, time, transportation or finances to pursue traditional four-year programs and deliver services they need to be successful.
  • Create councils staffed with educators, employers, non-profit professionals and others interested in student achievement in rural communities throughout the state to support the programs.
  • Enrich the ability of Community College of Vermont (CCV), the state’s provider of two-year certificate and associate degrees, to help students transfer into four-year programs at VTSU that can educate them to fill high-wage and high-need programs they might otherwise not enter.

“We know that certain services can help rural students learn about and succeed in disciplines that produce needed high-wage earners,” said Jennifer-Kristina Jones, Assistant Vice President of Academic Support and Educational Opportunity Programs for VTSU, who helped secure the grant and will lead the initiative. “They start with programs in high school and beyond to advise students, who may not have college graduates as role models, of what programs exist for them and how they might access the programs. Our partner, the Vermont Student Assistance Program (VSAC) already provides these services and the grant will help to expand their capacity to reach more rural students,” she added.

“After the students have entered college— whether at a VTSU campus or at a CCV campus from which they can later transfer to us—we can provide them with additional services, such as 24/7 remote tutoring and paid experiential learning, to help them succeed in their programs,” she explained.

“We’re happy to host campuses in many rural settings in Vermont and we are committed to making those campuses open and accessible to the communities that surround them,” remarked David Bergh, interim president of Vermont State University. “Many of the students who will be able to take advantage of the ROAD to Success programming will contribute to these campuses and keep them thriving,” he added.

The ROAD to Success program will also pay for technology—student tools like laptops and tablets, technology to upgrade rural classrooms and paid faculty professional development to transition courses and degree programs to 100% online formats, ensuring educators can adapt to the needs of rural students.

“We are committed to providing our programs in formats that allow Vermont students to prepare for meaningful employment in Vermont’s workforce,” stated Bergh. “One part of our vision is to radically expand access to rural students by becoming America’s first statewide hybrid university—offering many undergraduate and graduate degrees 100% online. The Department of Education grant will help us further that vision.”

“Technology can be key to allowing a student who might have family members to support or a lack of reliable transportation to take on coursework,” Jones noted. “This program will provide that and more—sometimes the key to sparking an interest that will grow into a career is an internship at a Vermont company. We will help our rural students to be able to find opportunities such as that through the ROAD to Success program.

Work toward project goals has already begun. Though the U.S. Department of Education grant funds the ROAD to success program for only four years, VTSU staff involved with the program are confident those formative years will provide benefits for the unforeseeable future. With improved career options and higher graduation rates for rural students, they expect to produce a skilled workforce for high-demand occupations, benefiting the Vermont economy for years to come.  For more information about becoming a workforce or community partner, contact Jennifer-Kristina Jones at