Free College For Pandemic-Affected High School Grads

In direct response to the effects of the pandemic, Maine is offering a free community college program for graduates.

By Jessica Marie Baumgartner | Published

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free community college program

Maine Governor Janet Mills worked to pass a $20 million program that offers students who graduated high school during the pandemic two years of free community college. Now that this initiative is in place, community colleges in the area are experiencing a flood of interest. This free community college program is expected to be a productive solution to the growing worker shortage that also offers students the support they lacked during lockdowns. 

States across the nation are experiencing a serious worker shortage. Many industries are being affected, especially those which serve children. Students who graduated high school between 2020 and 2023 have been subjected to teacher shortages and an increased rate of mental health issues while staffing issues keeping counselors and school nurses has also proved challenging. This and more led to the state’s decision to enact the free community college program.

Witnessing how teachers have been overwhelmed by state restrictions, taking on larger classes, and filling in for other educators, interest in teaching in general has waned, but so has college enrollment in general. Less students are taking classes at universities due to rising tuition costs, student loan interest rates, and academic overload. Maine’s free community college program was designed to relieve young adults of this burden after they have handled unprecedented obstacles to graduate high school. 

Furthering a need to aid students with this free community college program, the state of mental health declined significantly among children and teens during the pandemic. Due to excessive lockdown procedures, students were isolated from each other and most of their daily routines disrupted. According to a JAMA Network report, childhood depression and depression doubled. Youth suicide attempts increased by more than 50% in 2020, and many districts saw a significant increase in student suicide deaths. One school district in Las Vegas lost so many students to suicide deaths that they worked to reopen sooner.

The full effects of lockdown isolation will not be known for years to come. In the meantime, parents, educators, community, leaders, and lawmakers are scrambling to remedy the situation by offering hope and opportunities to young adults to provide a renewed sense of purpose. The free community college program is showing promise already as college staff works to keep up with student inquiries and applications. 

Funds for the free community college program will become available next month and are expected to aid students entering the 2022-2023 school year. While many small universities like Southern Maine Community College saw enrollment drops throughout the past couple of years, those numbers are already looking up for areas which have instituted similar programs. In Michigan Futures for Frontliners is another free college program that has improved young adults’ interest in higher education. 

free community college program

Despite the fact that Maine’s new free community college program is just beginning, registration has already improved by 20% and campus tour requests have also gone up. While students whose families have experienced financial hardship while they navigate through the teen mental health crisis have been increasingly less likely to seek out higher education programs, the option to further their education without getting into debt is affording them new future goals. As more students work toward promising careers, the hope is that they will renew the workforce as well.