Eastern Maine Community College is seen in Bangor. Credit: Caitlin Rogers / BDN

Maine’s community colleges are now offering two years of free tuition for students affected by the pandemic.

Southern Maine Community College President Joseph Cassidy said enrollment at the South Portland school is down, but he hopes free tuition will get more students into classes.

“What a great chance to come and study at the community colleges, to get to learn for free, to get job skills and get into the Maine workforce,” Cassidy said.

The free college initiative was funded by the supplemental budget Gov. Janet Mills signed Wednesday.

It means students at Southern Maine Community College won’t have to pay the annual tuition fees, which are around $3,700, not including additional fees.

“Students qualify by taking a full-time load, 30 credits, in the course of a year, and they can take a one-year certificate and that would be entirely paid for, or they can take a two-year associate’s degree,” Cassidy said.

The students eligible for this must have a high school diploma from 2020 to 2023, enroll full-time in an associate degree program or a one-year credential and live in Maine while enrolled.

“I think we’ve all felt for the kids that have really been turned up in the pandemic, and I think that they’re going to get an opportunity where the state of Maine is saying to them, ‘We want to support you, and we want to get you the skills and education that you need so you can stay in Maine and have a productive life.’ It’s pretty exciting,” Cassidy said.

Cassidy called it a great opportunity to get students into the workforce without getting into a financial hole.

“I think it’s a really big statement by the state of Maine saying, ‘We value our young people,’” Cassidy said.

This program will apply for this coming fall semester.