USW Member, Single Mom Finishes College Degree With Help From Union Plus

United Steelworkers (USW) member Jessica Hartung has a lot on her shoulders, but her load has been lightened by one thing in particular—her debt-free college degree. “I’m a single mom, with an autistic son. I have a full-time job, and COVID-19 has changed so much stuff,” said Hartung (not pictured). Despite her range of nonstop responsibilities, it has always been important to her to finish her college degree. For her, the most significant obstacle was the cost.

“The last time I went to college I drove over an hour each way every day. I spent all day at school, spent all night at work, took out loans when my money ran out and still didn't finish my degree,” Hartung recalled. “It makes my stomach hurt to talk about [the cost]. [I thought] I couldn't possibly afford to go back to college.”

When she found out about the Union Plus Free College Program, which partners with AFSCME and Eastern Gateway Community College (EGCC) to offer online courses and degree programs with no out-of-pocket cost to union members, she enrolled and has not looked back. Hartung credits the advisers at EGCC with helping her figure out a schedule that would work for her. Hartung is due to graduate in March 2021 with her associate degree and wants to make sure her fellow union members know how significant the Free College Program is.

“This is real, it doesn't cost you anything. It can be done at your pace, and they will help you with anything you need,” Hartung said. “For me it’s a life changer.” The Union Plus Free College Program is available to active or retired union members and their eligible family members, including spouses and children, as well as unemployed, furloughed and laid-off union members and their families. Visit UnionPlusFreeCollege.org to explore degree programs. The program is now enrolling for classes starting March 29.