Free tuition offers life-changing program for tech students

Published: Jun. 22, 2022 at 7:00 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - It doesn’t take long to scroll over to Aiken Tech or Augusta Tech’s website to see they’re offering free tuition.

The programs could be life-changing for people looking to make more money in specialized careers.

Since the pandemic, graduation rates have dropped at both Aiken and Augusta Tech. It’s been even harder to recruit and keep students, not just here but nationally as well.

The National Student Clearing House says enrollment fell over six and a half percent from fall 2019 to fall 2021.

Here is a look at the impact the pandemic had on Augusta and Aiken Tech. From 2017 to 2021, Augusta Tech’s graduation rate dropped from 34 percent to 32.

Their enrollment cut in half in 2021. From 2019 to 2021, Aiken Tech’s graduation rate dropped from 30 percent to 28.

Both schools hope these free tuition programs turn over a new leaf on their campuses.

“We kind of had to sink or swim,” said Cicely Harpe, director of financial aid, Augusta Tech.

The pandemic took a toll on many secondary schools across the country, but two technical schools in our area are looking to get students back into the classroom.

“It’s a really good time to be in school,” she said.

The free tuition program gears toward high-demand careers: welding, engineering, technology, and healthcare.

Donna Elmore, interim vice president of academic and student affairs, Aiken Tech said: “In just about every area, there is a need.”

Both technical schools say this program not only helps students but the community.

“Everyone is eligible,” she said.

Harpe said: “Students get tuition, institutions get numbers, and then the state of Georgia gets workers.”

Aiken Tech reached out to South Carolina employers to see about future job projections and says this program builds students up to meet the demand.

Elmore said: “8,000 jobs projected as needed in only health care and advanced manufacturing area, so there is a tremendous need.”

For Aiken Tech students, the criteria include living in South Carolina and pursuing a career in a high-demand field.

Augusta Tech students must show proof of citizenship and live in Georgia for at least two years.

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