The Senate Education Committee returned to H.461 on Thursday, hearing from Ken Gragg (Deputy Adjutant General, Vermont Military Department) on the college tuition benefit program section of the bill. This provision would allow for funds to be used outside of the state when a class or program is unavailable in Vermont. Specifically, he mentioned the Physician’s Assistant pipeline as a program that has created a bottleneck. The National Guard would benefit from the expertise offered by these positions but there are no programs in-state.
He explained that the way the federal funds work is that they require two years of service for every year of schooling. Depending on branch of service, each member may also have deployed benefits (GI Bill), some for full scholarship. These federal funds operate as the “first money in,” so the state funds only pick up any remaining tuition costs not covered by the federal programs.
There was some discussion of eligibility criteria and the fiscal impact to the state. Gragg admitted it would likely be small given that there is an existing program in place and this would only cover niche programs.
The eligibility for the state program was revised last year which expanded the eligibility to masters level, and included clarification that certificates and credentials (including CDL and LNAs) in needed vocations and trades were included. Gragg’s research indicates that in the last four years, the state has gone from a rating of “marginal” to having the best benefit in the nation. This is primarily because we offer so many trade credentials, as well as access to private schools like Champlain College here in Vermont. Most states restrict to only state schools.