Fifty-three-year-old Lisa Gauthier, the vice mayor of East Palo Alto, always wanted to go back to school, but could never afford it. With two associate of arts (AA) degrees in marketing management and business administration from De Anza College, she was working as an executive assistant. But that all changed last year when she found out about the Working Scholars tuition-free college program, which allows residents of certain Bay Area cities to earn a bachelor’s degree at no cost.
“I always knew I wanted to get my degree, but traditional school was out of reach financially, especially since my two daughters’ college education came first,” Gauthier says. “The Working Scholar program was so appealing to me not just because it’s cost free, but the platform is really convenient to use. I can access all the content on my phone or laptop or squeeze in lesson in between meetings or just before heading to bed at night.”
Gauthier is one of hundreds of students in California’s Mountain View, East Palo Alto, Sunnyvale and Gilroy who are working toward their free college degree through Working Scholars. They complete the majority of course requirements online through Study.com, an online education platform with short, animated video lessons, quizzes and study tools for middle school through college and beyond. The platform created 150 courses recommended for college credit by the American Council on Education (ACE) and/or the National College Credit Recommendation Service (NCCRS). Then, credits transfer to Thomas Edison State University, a four-year accredited university, where students complete final requirements online and earn their degree.
Launched in January 2017 in Mountain View, Calif., Working Scholars has since expanded to Gilroy, Sunnyvale and East Palo Alto, with many other Bay Area cities in the works. So far, over 1,000 individuals have applied to the program, and hundreds are currently working toward their degree—some in a quite accelerated fashion. The program has seen a 90 percent retention rate so far, and the program’s first class of graduates is expected at the end of this year.
“As an immigrant and first-generation college graduate, I believe everyone should have access to a quality, affordable education regardless of their socioeconomic background,” say Adrian Ridner, CEO and co-founder of Study.com. “For every tech worker in Silicon Valley, there are five service workers who aren’t able to take part in the region’s economic prosperity. A college degree would help unlock these workers’ earning potential, but the skyrocketing cost of tuition and the demands of work and family often prevent them from pursuing a degree.”
Though the program is still in its early stages, Ridner says it’s incredibly rewarding to see the impact the program has made so far. “From the single mother who’s able to make time for her own education with this program to the veteran who can finally take the next step, it’s wonderful to see the impact Working Scholars is having on the community around us,” he says.
As for Gauthier, getting her bachelor’s degree is just one stop on a much longer path. “For me it doesn’t end with my bachelor’s degree; I want to go further and earn my master’s,” Gauthier says. “I’m confident this will open so many doors for me in my career.”