Starting with the coming spring quarter, eligible Amazon workers will be able to attend Spokane Community College and Spokane Falls Community College free of charge.
Amazon and the Community Colleges of Spokane announced a partnership Thursday via the company’s Career Choice program to cover the cost of tuition, books and fees for classes at either college through a voucher.
Spring quarter begins April 4.
Launched in 2012, the Career Choice program expanded in January in the U.S. to cover full tuition for associate and bachelor’s degree programs, high school completion, GEDs and English as a second language proficiency certifications at hundreds of partner institutions nationwide.
There are approximately 1,800 Amazon workers in Spokane County, according to the Community Colleges of Spokane, with a number of those employed by Amazon’s fulfillment center in Spokane Valley that opened in September.
The costs of tuition, books and fees will be reimbursed to the colleges by Amazon directly through the program.
“Amazon is really flexible with their students about how they approach this partnership, what they take to pursue an education and, frankly, give them kind of an open door to take any credit course and program here at (the colleges),” said SCC President Kevin Brockbank. “Really, we just have to be an open, welcoming and receiving institution. It’s pretty simple, and simple helps when students try to access education.”
Brockbank said he attempted a few times to reach Amazon about some sort of partnership during the development of the Spokane Valley fulfillment center. Whether that led to Amazon reaching out this past fall about the Career Choice program is unclear, he said.
The program is available to hourly workers employed for at least 90 days. According to Amazon, workers have access to the funds as long as they remain at the company, with no limit to the number of years they can benefit.
Workers can only use the funds with for-credit classes and must maintain academic progress, said Kimberlee Messina, president of Spokane Falls Community College.
The colleges have set up a webpage specifically for prospective Amazon students to provide additional information about the program.
“One of the things that is a common goal between SFCC and Amazon is the apt desire to have our community members, who happen to be their employees, advance,” Messina said. “It’s not just to get a job, but to grow educationally, which would help them advance in their careers, whether it’s with Amazon or not.”
Enrollment numbers have declined at community colleges across the country, including at SCC and SFCC, during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The number of full-time equivalent students enrolled at SCC during the fall quarter was 5,940, down 8% from fall 2020, according to data provided by the colleges. Likewise, the 3,233 students enrolled this past fall at SFCC represented a 9% decline from the previous year.
Messina said the program will serve not only as a way to boost the colleges, but also to promote “the value of a college degree.”
“We’re hoping that some of those students that maybe would’ve been with us originally, but chose to work at the fulfillment center will find this as an avenue to build in higher (education) and build themselves into their new high-skill, high-wage job after their work at Amazon,” Brockbank said.
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