AUGUSTA — Maine’s community colleges are now offering up to two years of tuition-free college to all high school graduates from 2020-23 under the new Free College initiative funded in the supplemental budget signed Wednesday, April 20, by Gov. Janet Mills, according to a release.

“This is a historic moment for Maine,” Maine Community College System (MCCS) President David Daigler said. “There is nothing more important that giving someone the tools and education they need to pursue their dreams and build a better life. Free college will help those people most in need, and boost our communities and state economy with more skilled workers earning good paychecks.”

The supplemental budget includes a one-time $20 million allocation for free college. To qualify for the Free College Scholarship, students must have a high school diploma or equivalent from 2020-23, enroll full-time in an associate degree program or one-year credential, live in Maine while enrolled, and accept all federal and state grants, scholarships and other funding sources.

Free college is “extremely beneficial for Maine students,” student Makenzie Cowles, a human services major at Southern Maine Community College in South Portland, said. “It allows people to have more opportunities to grow into a field of work that helps our society. It gives students, like myself, who struggle financially, the access to achieve our goals and build successful lives. It also gives us the chance to fully establish ourselves in Maine as participating community members.”

Current community colleges students can qualify for the program as well. Home schooled students and adult learners who earned a GED or Hi-SET also qualify.

“These funds will translate immediately into more young people getting a debt-free, strong start on an education that will benefit them for the rest of their lives,” Daigler said.

The Free College Scholarship is offered in addition to multiple other tuition waiver or free college opportunities at Maine’s community colleges, such as free early college classes for Maine high school students; free short-term workforce training programs; and tuition waivers for adult education students, service members or veterans; students from foster care; Native Americans from regional tribes; low-income parents; senior citizens; and children or spouses of Maine public servants killed in the line of duty.

The average annual cost of tuition and fees at Maine’s community colleges is $3,700.