First year students Emily Strachan of Lewiston, left, Ryan Crockett of Old Orchard Beach and Kali Thompson of Waterville hang out Tuesday in the Dining Commons of Central Maine Community College in Auburn. They will be able to take advantage of free community college tuition next year as recent high school graduates. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

AUBURN — Recent and future high school graduates will soon be able to attend one of Maine’s seven community colleges tuition-free for up to two years, thanks to a one-time program approved by the state last week.

The $20 million initiative proposed by Gov. Janet Mills earlier this year promises to make higher education more accessible to roughly 8,000 students affected by the pandemic and grow Maine’s skilled workforce.

Students who have graduated from high school or received a General Educational Development certificate in 2020, 2021, 2022 or 2023 are eligible for the program. Individuals must currently live in Maine, be a full-time student, and apply for federal financial aid, if they qualify.

The program will cover tuition and mandatory fees — but not room and board — beginning with the summer term.

During the 2021-22 school year, a full-time in-state student spent about $3,864 in tuition and mandatory fees, according to the Maine Community College System website.

“It’s crazy, because I live like less than 10 minutes away,” said Emily Strachan of Lewiston, a first-year student at Central Maine Community College. “So I’m just coming here and doing classes, and I’m just not gonna have to worry about anything, pretty much.”


Associate Dean of Enrollment Managements Andrew Morong said he’s confident the new program will help bring in hundreds of new students to Central Maine Community College in Auburn over the next few years.

“This is a huge win for, not just the state of Maine, but more specifically the middle class,” Morong said. “You know, the middle class, they’re forgotten about when it comes to financial aid in higher education. They make too much to qualify for Pell Grants and things like that, but they don’t make enough to be able to write the check to pay for higher education out of pocket.”

New Mainers, who are not eligible for federal financial aid, will also benefit from the program, he added.

Ryan Crockett of Old Orchard Beach, a first-year student at Central Maine Community College, said he transferred to the college this semester from a four-year school due to the cost.

“Speaking out of personal experience, I think it’s a really good idea” to start at a community college, Crockett said. “Especially, you know, not having to worry about the loans. I know the cost of what you really want to do shouldn’t be a factor, but sadly, it is for a lot of people.”

He said he’ll put the money he would have spent on tuition toward housing and food costs, saving money for when he transfers back to a four-year college in the future.


Crockett, Strachan and Kali Thompson of Waterville each said they believe that attending Central Maine Community College is a better value than starting at a four-year school, especially if tuition is covered.

“You could just come here, go to community college and like figure it out, what you want to do (while) taking classes,” Thompson said.

The university system will also benefit from increased enrollment through this program, according to Morong.

“As we get more students in the community college level, that means that we’re going to be sending more students on to the university system, as well as transfer students seeking their bachelor’s degree,” he said.

Similar to other community colleges in the U.S., Maine’s community colleges saw a sharp drop in enrollment following the start of the pandemic in the spring of 2020. Enrollment dropped 13.4% statewide, from 17,327 enrolled in the fall of 2019 to 15,005 students in the fall of 2021.

So far, the idea of attending community college for free in Maine has proved popular. A Facebook post from Central Maine Community College advertising the state funding program has gotten far more attention than most other posts, Director of Marketing and Communications Rachel McKinley said.

In one week, the post has garnered 423 shares, reaching 47,000 people as of Tuesday evening.

Central Maine Community College will host two information sessions on its campus in Kirk Hall room 103 on May 5 and 9 beginning at 7 p.m. More information about the program can be found on its website at

Related Headlines

Comments are no longer available on this story