Lily Bohlke, New Hampshire News Connection

CONCORD — Community colleges have helped drive economic recovery in past times of hardship, and this year's New Hampshire high school graduates can be part of that trend. They'll be able to take one course free of charge in the fall.

A partnership between the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation and the Foundation for New Hampshire Community Colleges is providing the tuition and fees to give teens an entry point into higher education.

Susan Huard, interim chancellor of the New Hampshire Community College System, said she worries about the impact the pandemic has had on many folks' plans for higher education.

"We're just concerned that some people, they've said, 'Maybe this is a sign I'm just not supposed to go to college,' or they really don't even know what they want to do," she said. "And so, it just seemed like this is a great way to get people to put their toe in the water."

She noted that for some, it will be a chance to try a field they might be interested in, or an opportunity to earn credits toward a degree or credential. She added that community colleges offer affordability and flexibility — whether for student parents or those who work and are looking to move to the next step.

Huard said there may be resources coming to community college systems from the federal government — for infrastructure and technology updates, but also for workforce development.

"Workers need retraining. People need to be refocused on that work," she said. "So, we sit there at that juncture, where we help not only students and their families, but also our business and industry sector."

A bill now in Congress, the Jumpstart Our Businesses by Supporting Students Act, would allow students who receive Pell Grants to use them for short-term certificate programs. Every year, Pell Grants help more than 3 million community college students across the country cover tuition, fees and other expenses.

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