A gift to high school seniors – a free college course of their choice

  • Alfred Williams, president of River Valley Community College, Dick Ober, president of the NH Charitable Foundation, Susan Huard, Interim Chancellor of the Community College System of NH and Michael Turmelle, Director of Education and Career Initiatives at the NH Charitable Foundation announced a free course for graduating high school seniors on Wednesday, May 12, 2021. Eileen O'Grady—Monitor Staff

Monitor staff
Published: 5/12/2021 3:05:20 PM

New Hampshire high school seniors can take a free college course this fall, thanks to funding from two local philanthropic organizations.

The Community College System of New Hampshire announced Wednesday that it will be offering one free college course to any student graduating from a New Hampshire high school or home school in 2021. The initiative is funded by a donation of over $1 million from the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation and the Foundation for New Hampshire Community Colleges.

“As pending graduates, you’ve been through unprecedented and challenging times, and this gift is an investment in exploration and your future,” said Susan Huard, interim chancellor of the Community College System of New Hampshire.

Students can take any three-credit course of their choice at any of the state’s seven community colleges, including courses that are part of certificate programs that prepare students to enter skilled trades. The course can be online, hybrid or in person. Tuition and fees are covered up to $755, though the cost of textbooks is not included. The free course will only be offered in the fall 2021 semester.

“We want you to come and visit with us and figure out what that course is, maybe it’s a course in welding, maybe its a course in English literature, maybe it’s an LNA program,” Huard said. “Whatever it is, we’re very anxious to have you come and get started.”

Michael Turmelle, director of education and career initiatives at the Charitable Foundation, said the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted high school students’ typical process for preparing for life after high school, including internships and college visits, and challenges of illness and unemployment in their households has only compounded the problem.

“This perfect storm has knocked many students off course, and the result is a significant decline in students completing federal financial aid forms, lower numbers of students making early college decisions, fewer students applying for post-secondary scholarships and lower college enrollment overall,” Turmelle said.

The idea for the free course was inspired by a similar program launched in Vermont in 2020 by the McClure Foundation, which sponsored a free class for graduating seniors at the Community College of Vermont, according to Turmelle. Turmelle said Vermont saw its community college enrollment double as a result – 70% of students who took the free course finished with a passing grade, and 80% said they planned to stay and take more courses.

“It turns out in Vermont this became the pathway they hoped it was going to be, and we do as well,” said Dick Ober, president of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation. The organization is estimating about 1,300 New Hampshire students will take advantage of the free course, based on the number of New Hampshire seniors who typically matriculate to community college.

To enroll, eligible students should contact the admissions office at their local community college, where academic counselors can help students choose courses. Graduating seniors who are already enrolled at a community college for the fall are still eligible for a free course.


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