Free Community College for Massachusetts Students 25+

Episode #54. Host Jonathan Hughes and co-host Julie Shields-Rutyna talk about MEFA’s upcoming Financial Aid 101 seminars and webinars that will provide an overview of the financial aid process and highlight FAFSA Simplification. Then they go to the MEFA Mailbag to answer a question about refinancing student loans. Then Jonathan is joined by President of Mount Wachusett Community College Jim Vander Hooven and Executive Director of Massachusetts Community Colleges Association Nate Mackinnon to discuss MassReconnect, a new Massachusetts program that pays for tuition and fees at any Massachusetts community college for anyone 25 and older. Learn who is eligible, how to take advantage of the program, and more. If you enjoy the MEFA Podcast, please leave us a review.

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Resources Mentioned in the Episode:

Financial Aid 101

FAFSA Simplification

MEFA Loans




00:00 Intro

01:09 Financial Aid 101 and FAFSA Simplification

06:45 MEFA Mailbag

11:35 MassReconnect


Jonathan Hughes: [00:00:00] Hello everyone and welcome to the MEFA Podcast. My name is Jonathan Hughes.

Julie Shield-Rutyna: And I'm Julie Shields-Rutyna.

Jonathan Hughes: And as always, we have a really great show for you today. You know, I've heard that this might be one of the best episodes that we've ever done. We are still discussing our August and September campaign: The Time is Now.

And later on you're going to hear my talk with Nate McKinnon from the Massachusetts Association of Community Colleges and Mount Wachusett Community College President Jim Vander Hooven about MassReconnect a new program that offers free community college for adults 25 and over in Massachusetts. So stick around for that.

It was honestly one of my very favorite conversations I've ever had on this show, and it's an amazing [00:01:00] program. It's really exciting. So please stick around and listen to it. But before we get to it, Julie, what's on the menu?

Julie Shield-Rutyna: Well, we're headed into the school year. We're recording this right on the cusp of September.

And what does that mean? Well, it means college admissions and financial aid applications, or maybe not right away. So this year's going to be interesting. You may be aware. And if you listen to our show, you are that the FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which is normally available on October 1st, is going to be delayed this year.

It is being radically redesigned and simplified, and that's the reason for, for the delay. And now it is scheduled to be available in December, 2023. And yet that's just one piece. It's maybe the most important piece when applying for financial aid. But [00:02:00] MEFA is still going to embark on our fall campaign to help students as they think about admissions applications and financial aid applications.

And so we're going to begin that with the campaign of our financial Aid 1 0 1 events in October.

Jonathan Hughes: I have questions about this, Julie. So first of all, What are the Financial Aid 101 events?

Julie Shield-Rutyna: Yes. Well, Financial Aid 101 is basically a, a presentation. And we at MEFA give the presentation and we all also have expert financial aid administrators around Massachusetts who give the presentation.

And it's basically an overview of financial aid. What is financial aid? How do you apply for it? How and when do you receive it? What does a financial aid offer look like? All, all of that. So that is just an overview of financial aid and we like to start those in October because there are some colleges, many [00:03:00] colleges who have, you know, early action and early decision for admissions and so we want.

Students to get a jump on applying for financial aid as quickly as possible. And in fact, they can still do that if a college requires the, CSS Profile® form from the College Board®, they can still apply starting in October. So we want, we want students to know that but they will not be able to file the FAFSA in October.

They'll have to wait until December. So what we're doing in place of you know, moving students to do that very, very quickly, we're going to get students prepared so that they can do everything they can do this fall to be ready for when that form becomes available. When the FAFSA becomes available in December, they'll be right ready to go to complete it.

So that then it will meet all the deadlines in the winter and spring for, for school. So, so I'll share a couple of the things we're going to do and [00:04:00] one is we're going to have some webinars and workshops that are going to be called Create Your FSA ID and that is the username and password that student.

And parents, or parents will need to have in order to access the online FAFSA. So we're going to encourage families to get that all set up this fall. So again, they're ready to go when it's time to complete the FAFSA.

Jonathan Hughes: Well, that's great. Let me just break in here. That's great. I'm a big fan of that idea because as you know, most of the FAFSA questions we would get even before simplification were FSA ID questions a lot of those questions. So that's often where people run into difficulty. So with the new simplified FAFSA, making sure people have their FSA IDs set is probably most of the battle.

Julie Shield-Rutyna: Yes. So we're, we're really excited about that. And we'll, we, we have a couple scheduled right now, but we will continue to add those as long as people [00:05:00] still want to get that process out of the way.

And then additionally, we will add, we'll have another webinar that's sort of a walkthrough of the FAFSA because the FAFSA is new and it looks different. I think it looks better. It seems a little simpler, but it's new, and so we, we want to show people what the process is for that, so we will have some webinars that are a walkthrough.

The FAFSA also in the hope that then when students and their parents sit down to complete the FAFSA, they'll have already seen it. They'll have their questions answered, and they'll be able to get that done really quickly as soon as it becomes available in December.

Jonathan Hughes: So let me ask this then. If we have a FAFSA walkthrough, do we know what's on the FAFSA then? Do we have a FAFSA?

Julie Shield-Rutyna: We do have an example of what the FAFSA is going to look like.

Jonathan Hughes: Yes, we do. Okay. So we do have that available. Folks just are not going to be able to file it until December, is that right? Exactly. [00:06:00] Okay. But we can get them caught up at the- Oh, okay. Well that's great. And, and so what form is this going to take? We have webinars, we have in-person seminars as well.

Julie Shield-Rutyna: Yes. So we have, we have lots of webinars. We also have people doing presentations in high school. So if your high school offers and in-person presentation, by all means make sure you, you attend that if you can as well.

Jonathan Hughes: All right, so if people are hearing this and they want to sign up for a webinar, or they want to take advantage in some way of what we're offering here as, as part of our outreach efforts, where do they go?

Julie Shield-Rutyna: So they should go to

Jonathan Hughes: We will put a link to that in, in the show notes. But now it is time, as always for the MEFA Mailbag, and so these are questions that have come into us answered by our college planning team. Now remember, if you have any questions, you can email us at college at org. [00:07:00] You can call us at 1-800-449-MEFA. Over social media on Facebook that's @MEFAMa on Twitter at @MEFATweets and on Instagram at @MEFA_MA. Now our question today comes to us from Thomas. It's a bit of a curve ball I'm throwing you here, Julie, something we don't usually ask about, which is why I wanted to bring it up.

He writes, I'm exploring loans for my children. I read the section on the MEFA website about refinance options, but I don't understand it. I'm simply trying to, to determine if I secure a MEFA loan and plan on paying it off over 10 years, can I refinance it during those 10 years while I am paying it off?

Interest rates will of course, fluctuate during the repayment period, and it may make sense to refinance it. If this can be done, I assume it is refinanced through MEFA. So what do you have to say?

Julie Shield-Rutyna: Yes, I would [00:08:00] say that yes. It's so good to be thinking forward and ahead about a long-term plan for paying off loans.

That's wonderful. So I would, I would say yes. What you will do is if, if you borrow a MEFA loan you'll borrow it at a certain interest rate right now, and then what you'll see is at the time that you're going to start repaying that loan. You will be able to see what interest rates are at that point, and you'll be able to look into refinance options for that loan.

And I will even say through MEFA and, through other places as well, you're always we always encourage you to educate yourself, gather as much information as possible and we're happy to help you with that so that you can make the best decision at the time. So at that time in the future then. Yes.

If it makes sense, then you can take advantage and refinance your, your loan. I guess one other piece I'd say is it's always good to [00:09:00] be in the best. Have your, keep your credit up, have a good credit score when you're applying for a, a first loan or a refinance loan.

Jonathan Hughes: Yeah. So I wanted to address one thing here, and this is, I got confused actually reading his question, that he's talking about interest rates changing and, and being you know, it might make sense to refinance.

We're not talking about MEFA loan interest rates changing on his loan, right? Like all of our loans are fixed interest rates.

Julie Shield-Rutyna: Correct. So MEFA loans are all fixed interest rates. However, as you know, Jonathan when you borrow a loan each year, their are interest rates set for that loan. And so over the years, if you borrow, you might borrow another loan or you might borrow a loan each year, and the interest rate might be different.

From year to year, although whatever it is, whatever you sign that form, that's fixed. You know when, when you sign for that loan, it's a fixed interest rate, but you may have loans with different [00:10:00] interest rates if you borrow from multiple years while the student is in college. And then, After at the end, you'll be able to see what those interest rates are and see what current refinance interest rates are, and you'll be able to make a determination on whether that would be a wise decision and save you money or not.

And, and again, MEFA is happy to help with that. We have a calculator online that can help you with that and we, we can help you with that as well.

Jonathan Hughes: Thanks, Julie once again, if you have any more questions, you can email us at college or you can call us at 1-800-449-MEFA just to go through the social media information. Again, Facebook is @MEFAMa. Twitter is at @MEFATweets and Instagram is MEFA_MA. Remember that we have a bench of college guidance experts that are waiting to answer your question. Now let's go to my talk on the exciting new statewide [00:11:00] program for free community college for adult learners MassReconnect with Executive Director of the Massachusetts Association of Community Colleges, Nate McKinnon and Mount Wachusett Community College President, Jim Vander Hooven.

I'm excited about this conversation because. We're going to be talking about two subjects that I think sometimes get overlooked in the whole sort college conversation, and those are community colleges and adult learners. And so we are here to talk about a new statewide program called MassReconnect that offers free community college for adult learners.

So here to talk about the program are Nate McKinnon, who since May of 2021, has been the Executive Director of the Massachusetts Association of Community Colleges. Now this is an organization that advocates for Massachusetts' 15 community colleges serving over 136,000 students. And also joining us is one of those community college Presidents.

His name is Jim Vander Hooven and he has been the [00:12:00] President of Community College in Gardner, Massachusetts since 2017. And hopefully he can tell us what this program will mean to his students. So Nate and Jim, thank you both for being here.

James Vander Hooven: Thank you for having us.

Nate Mackinnon: Yes, thank you very much.

Jonathan Hughes: So let's start with a really basic question, and I'll direct this towards Nate. I mentioned really briefly the MassReconnect program. I didn't want to talk too much about it because I want you to explain it.

Nate Mackinnon: Sure. Listen, we're, we're incredibly excited about this. The MassReconnect Program is a new initiative that's been launched by the Commonwealth this year in the FY24 fiscal year budget that provides quite simply free community college.

Covering all tuition and mandatory fees, as well as covering the cost of books and supplies for any adult who's aged 25 or older. And is a Massachusetts, lives in Massachusetts who does not already have a bachelor's degree or an associate degree. So [00:13:00] that could include anyone who's. Never gone to college as a 25 year old, older adult.

But it also could include many of the 719,000 Massachusetts adults who have what we call some college no credential. Meaning they took credits. Maybe it was at a community college, maybe it was at a four year institutions, but they never actually got to the point where they earned a degree. And that's part of the, the real low hanging fruit.

Aspect of this from the Commonwealth's perspective, hence its name mass. Reconnect is trying to reengage many of those adults who've already shown that they can earn credits and get complete college coursework, but never actually got to the point of getting a degree. And so the 15 community colleges in Massachusetts are so excited to now have this available.

It is a huge tool in their toolkit to be able to entice adult learners back to community college to complete their associate's degree. [00:14:00] And, and whether that's for the purpose of being able to have a skillset to get higher wages or it's for the purpose of transferring to a a four year institution, the most affordable way of getting a bachelor's degree.

We welcome all learners and we're, we're so excited that the state has invested in this and, and and, and put the priority on this important work and role of the community colleges and the state.

Jonathan Hughes: Is this a temporary policy? Is there an end date on this or is this just policy going forward?

Nate Mackinnon: Yeah, I, I mean, the way we do budgets in, in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is we have a you know, we don't have a biennium or anything, but our legislature meets and hashes out a budget every single year. So this is for FY24 but it's clear from the emphasis that the Governor put into this you know, starting back to her time as a candidate as well as the legislature backing it in both the House and the Senate budget.

They mean business. And, and we fully anticipate that, that this or more will [00:15:00] be available for the coming years to support the adult students who want to get their, their college degree.

Jonathan Hughes: I want to direct this next question to President Vander Hooven, when you think about this policy in your institution, who will this help?

James Vander Hooven: This is, this is a great question because obviously it's going to help the students. It's going to, for the population of students that Nate was just talking about, it is a real positive step for us to be able to meet the needs of our, our region. And I want to emphasize that you know, tuition fees and books and supplies is a big deal.

And it is, we're really, really excited about it. But I have a, a fun story of something that actually happened yesterday. I was, I'm the, I'm currently serving as the chair of the board of directors of the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce. And I was at a lunch yesterday where it was an [00:16:00] orientation for new chamber board members.

And in the middle of that meeting the president of a company here in North Central Massachusetts, that employees well over 500 people in North Central Massachusetts without the topic ever being brought up. And without me initiating the conversation in any way. Asked everyone in the room if they've heard about this new MassReconnect program because he is excited about it, because of the the results that it will have for our workforce.

In Massachusetts. So, you know, when I'm on this campus and I'm trying to do the work of the college and our, you know, enrollment folks are doing their thing and our, our faculty is gearing up for the fall semester, we can, we can kind of put that, you know, the blinders [00:17:00] on about the real. Impact that this is going to have because the real impact that this will have is on Massachusetts workforce.

And it is it just by that anecdote alone, it has been noticed. It is and he was over the moon about. How excited he was about this program. And I could tell, because, you know, have you, have you all heard about this? And I kind of laughed. I'm like, yeah, I've, I've heard a little bit about this, you know, and, and then it, he connected that I was the president here.

And it, it was a great conversation, but it was such a timely thing that, that, you know, who is this going to help? Obviously it's going to help the students. I do believe that this is a program that is, that has so much momentum behind it that it's going to be here you know, for, for a long time. And I [00:18:00] believe that the.

The real unknown beneficiaries of this at this moment are the business owners, the folks who are trying to find a well-trained, well-skilled well-rounded workforce in Massachusetts. That, that, to me, it was like the greatest experience there at, at lunch yesterday.

Jonathan Hughes: That's amazing. That sounds great. Nate, I wonder if you could tell us how. Such a program came to be. Where did this come from?

Nate Mackinnon: Sure. Well, you know, I, I know that often in Massachusetts we like to think that we're We're the creators of every great idea that we've, that we ever implement. And we are, we do create a lot of great things.

We have a knowledge economy who comes up with good ideas. But this one, you know what I love about this is that Massachusetts leaders, starting with Governor Healy back in her time as a candidate, actually. Recognize that this was working in other states in particular [00:19:00] Michigan who's had it now up and running for a couple years.

And Tennessee, who's, who's also had a version up and running, both called reconnect programs, targeted at adults. And you know, she actually talked to governor of Michigan and, and, and was able to get feedback on it directly. And her campaign put this out back in the fall of last year. And, and you know, I, I actually reacted to it at the time in the media when, when she announced it, saying what a great idea this would be.

And so the presidents of the community colleges were thrilled that a candidate was, was thinking about this. And post-election in her inaugural speech on the, the very first day she was sworn into office, she said, I. The importance of a qualified workforce of adults, and that that was why in her first budget, she would create and fund the new Master Reconnect program, providing free community college to any adult, 25 and older without a degree.

And, and from there, what was impressive is typically new policy [00:20:00] ideas like this. To be honest, Jonathan take a substantial amount of time years to become a reality. To think that a gubernatorial candidate mentioned this last September or October actually, it was and, then brought it forward and got to a point where the house put it in their budget this year. And then the Senate put it in their budget, making it all but a certainty in the conference process of the legislative process that that makes the annual budget. And, and then last week we celebrated with the governor at Mass Bay Community College. I. As a formal launch and announcement with a brand campaign and the media was there and it was a real celebration a big day for community colleges the adults and the workforce of the Commonwealth.

Jonathan Hughes: Congratulations that must have been that must have been quite an afternoon for you.

Nate Mackinnon: It was, it was a, it was a very celebratory day, I think. For, for all the, all of the community college presidents who were there the [00:21:00] students who spoke were amazing in, in talking about what it means to them and their stories.

You know, and just really reminded all of us why we do this important work. And, and at the end of the day, the people at benefits makes a huge difference.

Jonathan Hughes: Well, let's talk about the actual nuts and bolts of it. President Vander Hooven and I see that tuition and fees are covered. But also that there's a stipend for books and supplies.

So what exactly is the process for the students to, to get into this program or to qualify for the tuition and fees, but also to get the stipend for the books and supplies?

James Vander Hooven: Sure. Once we've set up a several indicators through our enrollment process that would kind of usher a demographic of MassReconnect.

Prospective students and once they get to the point where they have registered for their courses, there's an automatic link to our bookstore. [00:22:00] And so it triggers effectively the supplies and, and books that are required for that class. And then that invoice just happens internally. So it's, it's something where, you know, I think it, like midnight, the today's enrollees are going to be uploaded into the bookstore, and then that happens.

It's, it's a very behind the scenes. And what I think eventually will become a smooth process. As Nate was saying, you know, we've put this into overdrive and our campuses really begin the semester next week. And so we're essentially learning as we go. However, given the fact that this was in both the house, the Senate, and the Governor's budget, we've known for quite some time.

So we've worked on internal processes. So it's not a thing where it's a paper and pencil thing where once the student gets registered, then they go to the bookstore and then they [00:23:00] bring an invoice, and then it's, it's really done behind the scenes. We're trying to make it as easy as possible from the student perspective.

And we're also trying to be as. Conservative and liberal if you will, because we know that some of these details are still going to be worked out. You know, I think our financial aid offices across the system every day think of, well, what about this exception? Or what happens if this occurs and we're doing, you know, what I think is, is the best approach and then we will learn as we go. But it really I would say that the goal. Is to have it be as seamless as possible from the student perspective.

Jonathan Hughes: Have you been able to draw on the experience of the community colleges and the other states that they've done this?

James Vander Hooven: Yes. Yes. Both from the positive experiences and from some of the negative experiences there, there are many, many maybe just as many.[00:24:00]

Approaches to this as there are states that are doing it. And, and so I think that that folks have really honed in on, you know, what it is. And, and what I would say is that the approach that Massachusetts has had is to make this all about the students. And what I've noticed in other. Regions is that perhaps the focus was on making it all about the colleges as some sort of solution to whatever they're going through, and then to make it about.

The students, whereas we have made this under Governor Healy's emphasis and from the legislature and from our colleges. This is about the students and this is about the workforce, and so that is actually making the process of [00:25:00] implementing this a little bit easier. It's still, you know, we're still in the, in the weeds.

It, we will be for quite some time, but what I've noticed the difference that, that we have here in Massachusetts is that the focus has been solely on the students and making this work for them.

Jonathan Hughes: Nate, I wonder if you could tell me, when you're looking at the program going forward how will you know, what metrics are you looking at to determine your success or the success of this program?

Nate Mackinnon: Sure. I think that's a great question. You know, I think there's multiple multiple key performance indicators that we'll need to look at in evaluating whether this worked. The first and foremost is more adults in Massachusetts with a college credential. I mean, that is absolutely goal number one.

Now, what's interesting about that is Massachusetts often rests on its laurels as being the most educated state in the country by already [00:26:00] having the highest percentage of adults with a college degree. I. In that though I, I would argue is a best of a poor lot in, in that we're, you know, celebrating, having slightly more than 50% of our adults have a college education and credential already.

But in reality, you know, the jobs that we have available. Require more than a high school education. And this is a perfect opportunity to, to align the skillset and educational levels of the workforce with what employers are expected so that when presidents of companies like the one President Vander Hooven just mentioned a few minutes ago are looking for people to fill jobs, the pool of individuals they have meets what they need.

To rise to the occasion for their businesses because if we can't do that, eventually businesses will stop coming here. Or worse, start leaving here. And we can't afford that as a state. And so to me, [00:27:00] knowing that we will have more adults not only enrolled because that's, that's challenge one, right?

Is getting them in the door. Challenge two at all of our community colleges is meeting them where they are and seeing them through to credential. And let's keep in mind that for a lot of listeners of this podcast who may have gone to college as 18 or 19 year olds, The experience that that, that I had and many of us had is not the same as an adult who's post 25 years old, who has perhaps children or rent and bills due or even a mortgage.

And also wants to get a credential while working a job at the same time. And that's, we, we have to think about that as a very different set of challenges for our students. And so one of the things that will be really important is not only getting our students in the door, but providing them the wraparound support services we already have.

At the community colleges for this population to help see them through to success.[00:28:00] Because for the colleges it's great to have students there, but every person who works at every one of our 15 community colleges is dedicated to actually producing individuals with a credential at the end of the day. And that's why we wake up and do the work we do.

Jonathan Hughes: I want to ask a clarifying question here about the program because you mentioned credentials. So does the program, you know, does it necessarily result in a degree or can there be certificate programs as well?

Nate Mackinnon: Yeah, it's a, it's a great question. In order to be in MassReconnect and at and attend one of our community colleges for free, a student needs to enroll in a certificate or a degree program.

And so we tend to refer to those collectively as a college credential. And the certificate programs that are eligible most of the certificate programs at our community colleges are eligible. You know, they have to be what's called Title IV eligible, which means they're eligible for federal financial aid.

So that requires a certain [00:29:00] number of clock hours. So a really short term certificate, like a CNA program, for example. Is not eligible for MassReconnect. We actually have other sources of funding that help make that free of students anyways. So we're trying to cover the gamut, but MassReconnect itself is explicitly for longer term certificate programs you know, around a year or more in length, approximately and associate degree program. So it's a great question and important to understand. Thank you.

James Vander Hooven: The good news to that point that Nate was just talking about is that we have put a really big emphasis at our college at least, and I know that others are doing this as well is we've put a big emphasis on making sure that our, certificate programs are stackable into an associate degree program, so it's not mutually exclusive. So students can begin with a certificate program and use that as a, a stepping stone towards the associate degree [00:30:00] as they, as they continue.

Jonathan Hughes: President Vander Hooven, we talked about some of your students already. Tell me what this means to your students and the population that you hope become students.

James Vander Hooven: Sure. So, you know, my, my answer is going to be a generalization and, and I try to shy away from generalizations. However I'm going to do that here. There's a population of students who may have begun college right out of high school.

They may have simply not been ready. For whether it was the academic rigor, whether it was something that was going on in their lives, you know, maybe it was the first couple of years of covid and everything was pretty chaotic at that time. Or we have students who or, or, or we have folks in our, in our population who are 29 years old and.[00:31:00]

Maybe had children early and have gone through, you know, life not reaching their potential that they want for their lives. And the barrier to reentering higher education is, it's more than just fiscal. Okay. It, it's, Making sure that you have childcare lined up. It's making sure that you have reliable transportation or good public transportation.

It's having food security, it's having housing security, et cetera. So MassReconnect provides us with an opportunity to reach those students because we have solutions at our colleges that deal with questions of food insecurity, housing insecurity. We have referral programs for childcare. We have an on, we have an on-campus child watch center so [00:32:00] that students can drop their kids off while they're in class or to study and, and those types of things.

So this program really knocks down a big barrier for, for that, that population of students. And, and that's where I think. We have the greatest potential and we're already seeing it as we approach the fall semester where students are hearing about the program and they're inquiring, you know, they're saying, I understand this is free, but I'm working full-time.

You know, when are your classes offered? I said, well, we can have our classes in the morning. We can have 'em in the afternoon. We can have them in the evening. You can take them online. You can do a hybrid. You can, you know, we have all that. So, so we are eliminating. The reasons for them not to reengage, and that is a, I think, a huge step for us.

Jonathan Hughes: So I guess I'll address this [00:33:00] question to both of you. We know that you can develop the greatest program in the world but if you don't communicate it to people and people don't know it's there, it's not going to do what's what it's intended to do. So what, what work needs to be done to communicate? This program to the people who really need to know about it.

Nate Mackinnon: Perhaps I could talk about that from a statewide perspective. And then President Vander Hooven can talk about it, what it looks like regionally at an individual college and, and a bit closer to the ground. So, you know, look going back to the perceptions, a lot of us. Who were traditionally age students in bachelor's degree programs right at 18 years old.

We tend to think about the cycle of the higher education year as being that you apply for college in January and February and you know, get your skinny letter or your acceptance letter somewhere in April and May and that you're then choosing classes and everything's set by the summer. Take everything you know about how the higher education [00:34:00] cycle works in a four year institution and throw it out the window because that's not how community colleges work. Community colleges are all year multiple points of entry. We accept students to register for classes so long as there's a seat in that class right up to the day of classes starting sometimes.

The second day of class is starting depending on the institution's policies, and we get a lot of students who come to us at that time. And then we get students who come to us in the second week of September, and we have a start date on October one for them and so on. So first of all, the, the first thing I want people to know is that they don't have to start.

Next week necessarily. But they also can start next week. You know, if they want. And, and that's true whenever this podcast airs because that's how our colleges work from a statewide level. We have tried to take advantage of as much free media as we can through press conferences. The governor's last week was very well attended and became very [00:35:00] much a part of the evening and, and print news cycle in the next 24 hours.

Following that. Including some national attention, which is great, but not necessary for what we're trying to accomplish here. And, and, and we are now starting to run radio ads and actually podcast ads targeted towards individuals who qualify for MassReconnect. And so we're in the process right now.

Of getting those on the air and sending people to mass for more information. And then the last thing I would say is that the, the community colleges are all very engaged in social media and, and discussions with local reporters, and I'll let Jim talk a bit more about that. But one of the things we did do in partnership with the Healy Driscoll administration was created a brand awareness with a logo and, and a font and a and a brand standard and identity.

That allows all of the marketing folks across the community colleges to use that so that there's a consistent look and feel to mass reconnect across the state. And maybe if President Vander Rubin wants to talk about what it [00:36:00] looks like at a regional level I think that'd be good context.

James Vander Hooven: Sure. So, you know, historically you, you really don't want to move forward with anything that's in a proposed budget until that budget gets signed. And I think that, that we were, you know, patiently. Awaiting the outcome of this, this past year's fiscal budget. And so when it was in all three, I think we, we knew that it had a very good chance of becoming a reality.

And, and so our folks at a campus level, and I'm saying that for all of the colleges and not just Mount Chu Community College, but all of them really started working on their outreach plan. And, and I I would call very soft communications out, you know, about the, the potential for this program. And so as Nate said, you know, at a state level, we're really doing the same thing on a local level with local media, [00:37:00] local and social media.

And, and, I have the, the belief, even though we're already seeing it move the needle for the fall semester, I really believe that we're going to see a bigger increase in the spring semester. Because even though we do operate on the rolling cycle that, that Nate was just referring to, we also are dealing with folks who think that you have to do it at a certain time of the year.

You know, because the, you know, their perception is like, oh, well I can't apply until February, or I can't apply until January. So we're really trying to emphasize that. So it's, it's the, the typical marketing opportunities. And, and just making sure also that, that we have our internal policies and procedures ready to go as well as we, as we do this opening for next week.

Nate Mackinnon: If any student is interested or anyone's interested if they go to [00:38:00], that takes them right to the landing page at the Department of Higher Education that talks about the program and also allows the links directly to their local community college, which is really where you have to initiate the process.

That's where they can apply. And get the process started. There is no application for MassReconnect, however a student is required to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or the FAFSA form that is a requirement in order to be eligible for it. That's something anyone can do at any point in time.

And is is a necessary thing to get through. It's probably the hardest part of MassReconnect and getting financial aid in general is completing the FAFSA. But we are have folks at our colleges who are ready and, and willing and able to help if students have trouble with that as well. So is the source for all the information and, and the gateway to each local community college for a student who's interested in the program.

Jonathan Hughes: Nate, Jim, thank you very much.

Nate Mackinnon: Thanks, [00:39:00] Jonathan. Appreciate it.

James Vander Hooven: Thank you.

Jonathan Hughes: Well, all right everyone. That was it. I want to thank Nate and Jim for being here. We're really very excited to help do what we can to spread the word about this new program. And folks, remember, if you liked what you heard today and you want to know more about planning, saving, and paying for college and career readiness, well then follow the show.

You can find us wherever you get your podcasts, and please remember to review us because it does help us. In some way to do what we're doing here and keep getting this show out to post like, so. Julie, once again, thank you very, very much.

Julie Shield-Rutyna: Oh, I love being here, Jonathan.

Jonathan Hughes: I also want to thank Shaun Connolly, our producer, and AJ Yee and Lauren Danz for their assistance and getting this show posted.

My name is Jonathan Hughes and this has been The MEFA Podcast. Thank you.[00:40:00]

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