BOSTON (State House News Service) – To address workforce shortages in Massachusetts and the rising costs of higher education, Democratic candidates for governor and lieutenant governor Maura Healey and Kim Driscoll released a new policy plan Monday to help older state residents complete their education after high school.

The policy, which the candidates have named MassReconnect, would fund community college certificates and degrees for state residents who are 25 years old and older and have not earned a college degree. Students could pursue either certificates or degrees, depending on which would better serve their career goals.

The program would offer “last dollar” financial assistance, the campaigns said, meaning the state would fill any gaps to fully cover the price of a students’ community college degree after federal financial aid and grants.

“One of our challenges in the community college space is that most people think college is unaffordable, or not for them, or both,” said Nate Mackinnon, executive director of Massachusetts Association of Community Colleges. “This program attacks one of those barriers head on. Having the narrative available that they can go to college for free is going to be huge in terms of convincing folks to take that step and not worry about taking on additional fiscal debt.”

Healey and Driscoll are pledging that MassConnect will cover more than just tuition, and will extend to costs such as mandatory fees, lab and course-specific fees, application and graduation fees, and textbooks and course materials.

Fifteen publicly funded community colleges in Massachusetts offer associate degrees and certifications. Under the plan, any person over 25 with a high school diploma or equivalent, regardless of their GPA, could go to any one of these colleges. The program also allows for part-time enrollment, for students to simultaneously work or raise families if needed.

“I’m the proud product of a state university, and I know how an affordable public education can open up new opportunities for hardworking people,” said Driscoll, who graduated from Salem State University in 1989 and is the mayor of Salem. “The MassReconnect program would allow older students to gain access to the industries that need workers the most through our excellent community colleges here in Massachusetts.”

According to U.S. Census data from 2020, more than 1.8 million Massachusetts residents over 25 have a high school diploma or equivalent but no higher education, representing roughly 38 percent of the age group.

A Healey campaign aide did not have an estimate of the cost of the program, saying the total depends on how many students take advantage of the program and the levels of other financial assistance the students receive. The aide said that 1.8 million people would technically be eligible for the program.

“One thing about focusing on the adult population is that these are students who tend to be really successful because they’ve already been in the workforce, and are now ready to come back and study,” Mackinnon said.

He added that community colleges play an important role in helping to certify students for specific skills that allow them to advance their careers or move on to jobs in other fields in critical industries.

“We can leverage this program to serve Massachusetts residents while creating the workforce that the state needs to fill with high wage jobs,” Mackinnon said.

State spending at the Department of Career Services, which helps people learn new skills and find jobs, has almost tripled in the past three years, rising from about $15.2 million in fiscal 2019 to nearly $43.5 million in the annual state budget that Gov. Charlie Baker signed in July.

“Our growing industries need more trained workers, and our residents need access to affordable education opportunities,” Healey said. “Under a Healey-Driscoll Administration, we’ll prioritize programs like our MassReconnect proposal to make job training available to more residents looking to get ahead in good-paying fields like health care and clean energy.”