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One UFCW Local 324 member sent his daughter to college for free — now you can too!

July 26, 2018 Updated: September 8, 2020

Yes, you really can get your degree for free.

Did you know UFCW members and their family members can earn an associate degree online from a public, accredited community college – with no out-of-pocket costs? Though it sounds too good to be true, the process is simple and can save thousands of dollars.

Already have another school in mind? There’s a special program designed for students who intend to transfer later that can help you satisfy the required general education electives and greatly reduce the overall cost of getting the degree of your dreams.

Sia Jaber is the daughter of a UFCW member who has been working through the program. Her story was originally published in the UFCW Local 324 newsletter:

When Sia Jaber’s father Shawn, a UFCW member for seven years, first told her about the UFCW’s newest benefit they shared a common reaction. “Free college, yeah right!”

Sia had just landed a new job at a dental facility where she managed an office of five people. Although happy with her job, she knew that in today’s economy, security depended on more than what can sustain you for the moment. She wanted to go back to school for the formal degree that would not only fine tune the skills she employs daily in her current job, but would help give her job security well into the future.

But like most people who come across an offer to get something of great value at no cost, Sia and her parents thought there had to be a catch. And so, her father took on the role of a highly determined private investigator and set out to prove that what sounds too good to be true usually is.

He went on the college free website: www.ufcwfreecollege.org. He discovered that the program was formally offered through Gateway Community College, a non-profit regionally accredited school based in Ohio. Currently, the program offers a comprehensive on-line curriculum that culminates in an Associate’s degree in a variety of courses:

• Business Management
• Labor Studies
• Entrepreneurship
• Human Resources
• Healthcare Management
• Marketing
• Finance
• General Management
• Accounting
• Patient Home Navigator Certificate
• Associate of Arts Degree
• Criminal Justice Degree
• Paralegal Degree
• Early Childhood Education Degree

Two degrees, the Associate of Arts Degree and the Associates of Individualized Study, are designed specifically for students who intend to transfer to a four-year university. The course of study includes general education electives that will be required for a B.A. or B. S. The goal is for students to be able to enter a four-year university with virtually, if not all, of their general education electives satisfied.

Shawn called the number listed on the informational material to confirm and reconfirm that there is no cost to the student. “You know when you get those phone calls and the voice on the other end says ‘Congratulations you have been chosen to receive a free Hawaii vacation.” Well it takes a little while before you find out how much your free vacation is going to cost you and it’s not cheap. Even the books that are required for each course are provided in pdf form at no cost to the student.

Sia is pursuing a business management degree and her first course began May 12. She said the whole process so far has been easier than anything she could have hoped for. The day she began the application process she received an email from the college detailing every step she needed to take to become a student. One important part was the requirement that she apply for FAFSA, which is a federal student aid program. If she were to qualify for any such aid, that money is channeled to the school. But students who don’t qualify are not penalized in any way. “It’s just a formality and they take care of the process once you apply.”

She discovered that one of the most common fears students have — the lack of in-person assistance from a professor—was not something to fear at all. “I had a big question about one of the assignments so I highlighted the material in the reading assignment and emailed it to my professor,” Sia explained. To her surprise she received a detailed explanation from her professor within six hours.

“I was actually expecting to be able to relax that night because I couldn’t proceed without an answer,” she said as she laughed.

The process for completing her online coursework has been ideal for someone working fulltime like herself. She mastered both her midterm and her final in a Power Point presentation that was also part of her final grade. She chose to cover the 2003/04 Strike/Lockout. Both her mother and father were union members who actively participated in the historic event and she used them as sources.

As she completed the project she took some extra time to research some of what her parents told her happened during the strike/lockout. She recalled one of them questioned why she was taking all that time to verify the accuracy of what they told her. Sia’s answer revealed the kind of healthy skepticism that professors strive to instill in their students. “It’s not that I don’t believe you,” she said matter-of-factly, “but let’s face it, you also told me nothing in life was ever free. We both know that wasn’t exactly true, don’t we?”

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