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Gov. Healey launches MassReconnect free community college program

Xavier Cullen
Gov. Healey launches MassReconnect free community college program
MassBay Community College. PHOTO: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Governor Maura Healey went to MassBay Community College in Wellesley Aug. 24 to officially launch a new program to make community college free for residents ages 25 and older who don’t already have a degree.

MassReconnect covers the cost of tuition, fees, books and supplies for students who have a high school diploma, have been Massachusetts residents for at least one year and are enrolled in at least six credits. Healey’s office estimates that up to 8,000 students will be supported in the first year of the program, and that number could grow closer to 10,000 by the next fiscal year.

“Education — this is our calling card,” Healey said on the campus. “This is a huge competitive advantage for Massachusetts in this time because it elevates a workforce, it attracts employers to our state and it puts us at the forefront of what is now very much a global economy.”

For some students who pushed off a secondary education after graduating high school, this program is a chance to pick up where they left off.

“This is really a big opportunity for all of us to cross off that degree that’s been on our goal list for years now,” said Nick Lekas, a second-year student at MassBay who graduated from high school in 2011.

It was a particularly emotional day for Lekas, who had to handle the financial burden of paying for school with the time commitment of being a student and full-time worker. He ultimately decided to step away from his education. It became harder after his mother passed away.

But when Lekas was told he could attend community college without taking out loans, he took advantage and is now looking forward to his future.

“I am getting married soon, so I am starting a family,” Lekas said. “I want to be someone that, when I do have children, I want them to look up to me and know that I worked hard to be where I’m at. And I want to inspire them to do the same.”

Students who qualify for the program have to sign up for classes and fill out the FAFSA form to get their costs covered.

Healey proposed MassReconnect while running for office last year. The House and Senate agreed on $20 million to back the program, putting it in this year’s state budget.

The week had been filled with plenty of celebrations for Healey, who Aug. 21 announced that nearly 3,000 health care providers would receive a total of $140.9 million in student loan repayments under the MA Repay Program, which launched under Governor Charlie Baker.

The next day, Healey traveled to Dorchester to celebrate the start of in-state tuition and state financial aid for undocumented students, another policy change tucked into this year’s budget.

“We’re really, really proud of this week and grateful to all who have worked so long to advocate for these policies and then to enact these policies,” Healey said.

Xavier Cullen is an associate producer on GBH’s Greater Boston.

Community College, free community college, Gov. Maura Healey, MassReconnect