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Free education?

Green River Community College is looking for 250 low-income students who want to attend college for free.

That’s right, free.

“We have put together a program wherein individuals call us and we assess their eligibility for the program over the phone,” said Bill Belden, one of two deans of student services at Green River Community College. “We get them in a workshop where they can apply, then we identify funding sources and they register for classes all in one easy process.”

Students can earn an associate degree or get career training in more than 40 programs leading to real jobs at real wages, including the fundamentals of care giving, water-wastewater, para education, carpentry, auto body, manufacturing, air traffic control, business management, medical coding and informational technology.

The new program covers tuition, fees and books; it doesn’t cover child care and transportation to and from school. Any GRCC program is eligible.

To begin the process students should call (253) 288-3319. A school staff member will ask them questions to determine their eligibility.

“The program is geared toward low-income individuals whether they are laid off or receiving food stamps or unemployed for other reasons,” Belden said. “The benefit type they are receiving is the easiest way we can determine eligibility, but there are a number of other questions we will ask to make sure it is appropriate for them.

“We don’t want them wasting their time.”

Belden said the staff member will guide prospective students through the process so they understand how the program works, help them see where they are eligible, then connect them with training or the academic program that fits their interests.

In recent years the state has invested in a number of specific funding program to help low income individuals get training for a career and improve their employability.

“There are lot of unemployed and underemployed in the community. We want to make it as easy as possible for them to understand the funding options for them. We don’t want education to be a complicated process,” Belden said.

Belden said that the college is advertising for 250 people, but it can accommodate more because of the funding sources.

“More than 450 people have inquired. The reality is that a lot of them are not ready to go to school yet. We’ve had 150 students come through orientation to find out about this, but not all will register.

“... We see the emotional response from people who never dreamed college was in their future and are now registering for spring quarter, which starts March 31. Students may register up until April 4. Our great hope is that the community starts to understand what GRCC is all about and what resources we have to serve the community,” Belden said.

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