WINOOSKI — Donald Vickers has some important plans for the future.
“I have a chicken coop that’s falling down, a garden to tend to, and I will have to unplug my alarm clock,” said Vickers, who is retiring after serving 23 years as president and chief executive officer and more than four decades with the Vermont Student Assistance Corporation.
When Vickers joined VSAC as director of the state grant program in 1971, he was one of four employees. Under his leadership, VSAC grew to 400 employees, until 2010 when the U.S. government restructured how it administers federal loans. For VSAC, whose budget came from administration fees, the shift was painful.
“I’m a growth kind of guy and I wasn’t sure I was the right guy for the job,” Vickers recalled of the time when, after two decades of steady expansion, he had to lay off 130 employees. “What happened during that difficult spot made things difficult for Vermont families.”
Before 2010, VSAC was a “one-stop shop,” where prospective students could learn about grants and loans, but the conversation would begin with the most basic of questions: What do you want to do?
It’s an important question, because a loss of interest can lead to not finishing college, leaving students with high debt loads and an inability to pay them off, Vickers said.
VSAC also discusses loan options, and the reality a student will face upon graduation when it’s repayment time, through financial aid nights at most high schools.
VSAC also communicates its message though media used by today’s teens: social media and websites such as www.startwhereyouarevt.org, which is aimed at current students grades seven through 12 and is intended to help them make an informed decision about what they want to study and how much it will cost.
“Now, most students don’t find out about the terms of their federal loans until right before you enroll,” Vickers said.
While a career decision can be daunting and the loan amounts terrifying to youths and their families, the prospect is more attractive than not getting an education, Vickers noted.
According to 2011 statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for a college graduate is 4.9 percent, compared to 9.4 percent for a high school graduate and 14.1 for a dropout.
Vickers will leave VSAC on June 30, but before he goes he will be honored in March during a ceremony in Boston as he receives the Eleanor M. McMahon Award for Lifetime Achievement from the New England Board of Higher Education.
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