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A 57-Year-Old AFSCME Free College Graduate’s Advice: ‘If I can do it, you can do it’

If a 57-year old AFSCME member can earn his associate degree through the AFSCME Free College benefit, so can you.
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By Nell McNamara, AFSCME Council 31 ·
Tags: Benefits
A 57-Year-Old AFSCME Free College Graduate’s Advice: ‘If I can do it, you can do it’
Photo by: Council 31

The AFSCME Free College benefit has been making it possible for AFSCME members, retirees and their families to earn an associate degree online, completely free.

After nearly 30 years serving the public in Cook County, Illinois, AFSCME Local 3692 (Council 31) member and Cook County Correctional Sgt. Bill Jones took advantage of this great opportunity. He started his associate degree program in 2016 and graduated with honors in May 2018 – at age 57.

“I was at a union conference and heard about the AFSCME Free College program. I wanted to take advantage of a free education,” Jones said. “Any time a union or organization wants to pay for you to go back to school, you should take advantage of it.”

Through a partnership between AFSCME and Eastern Gateway Community College, AFSCME members and their children or stepchildren, grandchildren or step-grandchildren, spouses, domestic partners, siblings, parents and financial dependents are eligible to earn an associate degree with no out-of-pocket costs.

Jones needed 18 credits and the average course costs between $400 and $500 at Eastern Gateway, Jones said.

“But all the classes were free for me as a union member,” Jones said. “Listen to me, when I say free – I spent zero dollars. All I had to pay for was my cap and gown. You do the math on the value.”

There are a variety of courses of study available, including health care management, labor, criminal justice, accounting and early childhood education. Students can focus on labor studies, programming, cybersecurity, finance, marketing, human resources and more.

Students can set their class schedule around work and personal life for access to greater opportunities, including better pay and promotions. Credits earned can transfer to other colleges.

“I was on the dean’s list and the National Honors Society. ‘I did all that at 57,’ I said to my grandkids. ‘If I can do it, you can do it.’”

Eastern Gateway Community College is a public, accredited college in the university system of Ohio, which is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, an institutional accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.

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