January 06, 2020

A graduate at age 57: “If I can do it, you can do it!”

The AFSCME Free College benefit has been making it possible for AFSCME members, retirees and their families to earn an associate degree online, completely free.

After nearly 30 years serving the public in Cook County, AFSCME Local 3692 member and Cook County Correctional Sergeant Bill Jones took advantage of this great opportunity. He started his associate degree program in 2016 and graduated with honors in May 2018.

“I was at a union conference and heard about the AFSCME Free College program. I wanted to take advantage of a free education,” Jones said. “Any time a union or organization wants to pay for you to go back to school, you should take advantage of it!”

Through a partnership between AFSCME and Eastern Gateway Community College, AFSCME members and their children or stepchildren, grandchildren or step-grandchildren, spouses, domestic partners, siblings, parents and financial dependents are eligible to earn an associate degree with no out-of-pocket costs.

Free means free

Jones needed 18 credits and the average course costs between $400 and $500 at Eastern Gateway, Jones said.

“But all the classes were free for me as a union member,” Jones said. “Listen to me, when I say free—I spent zero dollars. AFSCME paid full tuition. All I had to pay for was my cap and gown. You do the math on the value.”

There are a variety of courses of study available, including health care management, labor, criminal justice, accounting and early childhood education. Students can focus on labor studies, programming, cybersecurity, finance, marketing, human resources and more.

Any corrections employee who graduated from the Illinois Department of Corrections Training Academy and chooses the Eastern Gateway Criminal Justice program can leapfrog into their education and complete their associate degree in criminal justice in less than 18 months. DOC employees can earn up to 19 college credits with their Training Academy Certificate. 

Students can set their class schedule around work and personal life for access to greater opportunities, including better pay and promotions. Credits earned can transfer to other colleges.

A big accomplishment

“I was on the dean’s list and the National Honors Society. ‘I did all that at 57,’ I said to my grandkids. ‘If I can do it, you can do it.’”

Eastern Gateway Community College is a public, accredited college in the university system of Ohio, which is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, an institutional accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. 

For complete application information, call 888-590-9009 or visit

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