New scholarships aim to keep youth in state

A recent bill passed by the Vermont Legislature, called The Next Generation Initiative, allocates $5 million for scholarships to Vermont schools. The scholarship was created primarily to entice Vermont youth to live and work in Vermont. “The population of youth is falling dramatically, while the population above 65 is growing. This has recently become a matter of concern for Vermont leaders,” said Karen Meyer, vice president of federal, state, and community relations. Next Generation scholarships are given to students for free, providing that the person awarded the scholarship stays in Vermont for three years after graduation. If they do not stay in Vermont for the first three years after graduation, they must pay back 50 percent of the awarded money, said Meyer. The idea for a scholarship fund was originally proposed by Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas whose incentive was to make college more affordable and increase the state’s youth population. The scholarship will be equally divided between the Vermont Student Assistance Corporation, the University of Vermont, and the Vermont State Colleges. The original scholarship amount proposed by Douglas was renegotiated from $175 million over a period of 10 years to $5 million. “I don’t believe $5 million will solve the problem, it’s not a silver bullet, but it’s a start. What we intent to do with the Vermont population is look at Vermont students that have debt and try to take that debt down,” Meyer said. Currently, 70 percent of Vermont students get financial aid averaging around $3,000 per person, according to a recent speech made by former acting President John Bramley. “I hope this money can really do something positive in terms of scholarships,” Bramley said. Douglas’s proposal was debated on the floor but ultimately rejected due to a lack of consensus on funding. Instead, The Next Generation Initiative was passed with the stipulation of creating a commission, called the next generation commission, to research scholarship allocation. In addition to researching a plan to encourage Vermonters to live and work in Vermont, the commission is charged with examining options such as loan forgiveness, tax incentives, loan repayments and leveraging federal sources, according to the amendment. The commission must also identify a funding source and create a system for overseeing the use of the scholarship funds. The commission is composed of four members appointed by the governor, two members appointed by the president of the Senate, two members appointed by the speaker of the House of Representatives, and a chair jointly appointed by all three, according to the amendment. The University of Vermont, which will be receiving a portion of the money, was not given an appointment to the commission. “We don’t really want to be on the committee,” Meyer said. “We want it to be comprehensive of Vermont. For the notion of how this is going to work we don’t feel we need to sit on the commission to be represented.” The commission will present a plan to the general assembly on Dec. 1.