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Getting a Free College Degree Is Easier than Ever

With the new AFSCME Free College benefit, members and their families can further their education and gain a college degree at no cost.
By Clyde Weiss and Olivia Sandbothe ·

Watch this video to hear Beverly Payne, Richard Anderson and other AFSCME members talk about the value of the AFSCME Free College benefit. Learn more about the AFSCME Free College benefit and how to enroll at

Getting a college degree was not in the cards for Beverly Payne, who worked at an Ohio preschool for 30 years while raising four children. She never had time to further her education, she said. Now, the deck is stacked in her favor – at the age of 71 – thanks to the AFSCME Free College benefit.

“When this opportunity came up, I’m thinking – know what? I don’t care how old I am. I’m going to try this,” said Payne, a member of the Ohio Association of Public School Employees (OAPSE)/AFSCME Local 4.

As a secretary and transportation coordinator for a pre-school in Crestline, Payne knows the value of giving a child every opportunity to learn and grow. It’s no surprise, therefore, that she was eager to take advantage of this benefit, which was offered in Ohio for a year and which is now expanded to AFSCME members and their families throughout the country.

Hundreds have already taken advantage of the program, including Payne. In fact, it’s a family affair. Payne said one daughter is already enrolled, and a second daughter and son-in-law are looking into it, and a third daughter – who already has a bachelor’s degree – is also thinking of enrolling in additional courses to further her career.

Last month, at our 42nd International Convention, Pres. Lee Saunders announced the national rollout this summer of the AFSCME Free College benefit. “That’s how we empower public service workers,” he told Convention delegates. “That’s how AFSCME never quits helping its members.”

Here’s how it works. AFSCME, in partnership with Eastern Gateway Community College – an accredited, non-profit institution and a member of the University System of Ohio – is offering retirees, members and their families (spouses, domestic partners, children and grandchildren) an opportunity to enroll in a program to earn an associate degree online from anywhere in the country. Credits can also be transferred to most four-year public universities.

There are no out-of-pocket costs. That’s right – no burdensome student loans are needed. The Free College benefit combines Pell grants and employer reimbursements with AFSCME's “last dollar scholarship,” which covers all remaining costs after federal or state grants and employer reimbursements are applied. Together, these funds cover the full tuition amount for participating degree programs.

Even if an applicant is not eligible for federal, state, or employer financial aid, AFSCME's last dollar scholarship will still be applied to the remaining balance for tuition and fees.

“It’s very difficult juggling a full-time job and a family, but quitting’s not an option for me,” said Richard Anderson, a corrections officer at Ohio State Penitentiary and a steward in his union, Ohio Civil Service Employees Association /AFSCME Local 11.

“This is a life achievement to go to college and graduate with a degree,” he said. “And it just makes life a lot easier, especially if you have children. It’s definitely setting the right goals and the right way of doing things, by showing them it’s never too late to continue your education to help you to better your life.”

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