Christine Jones found the traditional college experience to be difficult with the lack of financial aid, the need to take on student loans, and the struggle of balancing a commute while working full-time. Then Hurricane Harvey came and halted her educational pursuits altogether.
But then her mom, a long-time special education teacher and Northeast Houston AFT member, introduced her to a union membership benefit that would pay for all the remaining expenses for her degree.
“I run a business,” Christine said. “I like business — that’s my niche — and I knew I needed an education.”
As part of her AFT membership, Christine’s mother Marsha had access to the Union Plus Free College Benefit, which allows union families to pursue higher education without piling on thousands of dollars of debt.
The free college benefit is a partnership with Eastern Gateway Community College that allows students anywhere in the United States to enroll in a distance-learning associate degree or certificate program. After learning about the options, Christine quickly got her materials together to apply for the Business Management degree.
“I enjoyed my experience with Eastern Gateway,” she said. “I wish they would have offered it when I was younger. But now that I am older, I am more focused, so it worked out.”
Did she miss the traditional college experience? Not so much. Instead, Christine said she appreciated the program’s online structure, which gave her more time to travel, work full-time, and tend to other responsibilities.
“Having an associate’s degree looks better on my resume, and it gives me a better chance to compete for jobs,” Christine said. “Who doesn’t want to avoid the stress of gas, driving, attending school in-person, and the cost of books? Why not get it paid for and be able to do it at home? I could do homework on my phone. That’s how convenient it is. If you have time and opportunities like these to get a free education available to you, then take the opportunity.”
Christine recently graduated from Eastern Gateway Community College with her associate’s degree in Business Management. Now, as she starts a new job, she wants to keep her educational momentum going. With her associate’s degree in hand, she plans to continue with Union Plus’ free bachelor’s degree program with Central State University. Her career goal is to transition into human resources and recruiting.
“I definitely recommend it,” she said of the benefit program. “You need that education to better yourself, and if the costs are covered, it helps out a lot. Right now, in this day and age, I felt this was perfect for me and my situation. It was convenient, everyone was understanding, and the whole process was smooth. I wish they would have had this years ago. I would have already had my Ph.D. by now!”
The Union Plus Free College Benefit provides funding that fills the gap between “any federal, state, and employer education grants for tuition, fees, and e-books for certain programs at Eastern Gateway.”
The benefit is available to prospective students with a high school degree or GED who are:
- current or retired union members
- spouses or domestic partners of union members
- children of union members, including stepchildren and children-in-law (no age limits)
- grandchildren of union members
- siblings of union members
- parents of union members
To see eligibility requirements, as well as a list of various associate’s degree programs, visit the Union Plus benefit website. You also can find more information on the Union Plus bachelor’s degree program online.
These Union Plus programs are just two educational benefits available to AFT members. Find other scholarships, student debt resources, and more on the AFT member benefits website.