CALAIS, Maine — There may be little excuse not to attend college — community college, that is — now that the Maine Community College System has introduced its Graduation Protection Assurance program.

The program will cover the cost of tuition and fees for eligible full-time dependent students whose parents recently have lost a job or become unemployed. The program is intended for students already enrolled or about to enroll in the community college system.

The fall semester begins in August and the program will cover one- and two-year programs.

The GPA program was introduced locally at a press conference Tuesday at Washington County Community College.

College spokeswoman Cindy Moholland said the program was announced several weeks ago by officials of the community college system.

“This is a systemwide program, so it will affect all seven campuses,” she said. “Eligibility will be determined through our financial aid program.”

It costs about $3,300 a year to attend WCCC, which has about 450 students.

The GPA program does not cover housing costs.

The program was developed in response to widespread job losses across Maine as a result of the current economic downturn. New and returning students are eligible for the program.

“Only about 50 percent of young people in Maine enroll in college immediately after graduating from high school — one reason the unemployment rate for young adults in the state is higher than for any other group: 20 percent [higher],” community college system officials said in a press release. “The best place for these young adults — especially during an economic downturn — is in college, preparing for the future.”

The GPA program is meant to reduce the likelihood of a young adult postponing or leaving college if a parent loses employment.

“If there were ever a time in our area that such a program is needed, it is now, given the significant job loss we have seen over these past few years, with the most recent being related to the Domtar shutdown. I truly do believe the GPA program will be of great aid to many families whose children will be enrolling in Washington County Community College,” the college’s president, Bill Cassidy, said in a statement. He was unable to attend the press briefing Tuesday.

Earlier this year, Montreal-based Domtar Inc. announced that it was laying off 300 workers indefinitely at its pulp mill in Baileyville. At one time, Domtar was the largest employer in Washington County.

Moholland said that even if one parent is still working a student could be eligible for the GPA program. She said the college would accept any and all students who are Maine residents who applied and were eligible for the program.

“It is not an income-based program,” Moholland said. “You could have one parent making $60,000 a year, but if the other parent is laid off, the student still would be eligible.”

The program is designed to cover the cost of tuition and fees and will be in effect from this fall through the spring of 2011. For information, contact WCCC’s financial aid office at 800-210-6932 or 454-1000.