Massachusetts Budget Includes Free Community College, Free Nursing School

Gov. Maura Healey last week signed into law her first annual state budget that makes sweeping new investments in higher education.
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Published on August 14, 2023
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  • Massachusetts will soon offer free associate degrees for people who don't already hold a degree.
  • The state will also create a pathway for tuition-free nursing school.
  • These initiatives are slated to take effect in the fall 2024 semester.
  • Lawmakers passed a budget that includes $50 million for free college programs.

Massachusetts residents will soon be able to pursue a tuition-free associate degree or certificate at a local community college.

State lawmakers passed a 2024 budget in late July, and Gov. Maura Healey signed it into law last Wednesday. The $56 billion budget invests heavily in the state's college system, allocating $229 million for higher education institutions and scholarships for students, according to the governor's office.

A new tuition-free community college program is perhaps the state's crowning jewel for the budget.

Massachusetts will invest $50 million over the next year for tuition-free college programs. Most notably, it allocates $20 million for the new MassReconnect scholarship for residents who don't already hold a degree.

MassReconnect allows residents 25 years old and older to pursue an associate degree or certificate from a local community college free of charge. The last-dollar scholarship will cover any remaining expenses — including tuition, fees, the cost of books, and other education-related expenses — after all other federal and state aid has been exhausted, according to the budget.

In order to be eligible, residents must not already have a college degree, must be 25 or older, and must be enrolled for at least six credit hours.

The budget also invests $12 million for "capacity-building" efforts at local community colleges to accommodate any rise in enrollments due to this new program.

MassReconnect is expected to begin with the fall 2024 semester.

Massachusetts Secretary of Labor Lauren Jones said in February that MassReconnect may help up to 1.8 million state residents attain a degree or certificate. Nearly 700,000 Massachusetts residents have some college but no degree, Healey's office said.

Healey also approved a part of the state budget that will invest $18 million in creating a scholarship program for aspiring nurses. It will cover the remaining tuition, fees, and other expenses for students enrolled in a nursing program at a community college in the state.

Like MassReconnect, this will be a last-dollar scholarship, meaning funds are distributed after all other federal and state aid is administered. It also only applies to residents who don't already hold a college degree.

Some of the $18 million for this nursing scholarship may be used to recruit more nursing faculty and staff, according to the budget. In addition to the nationwide nursing shortage, many states are struggling with a nurse faculty shortage at colleges and universities, which makes it difficult to train enough new nurses to fill vacancies in hospitals and other medical facilities.