Free Minds featured on the ACC homepage!


Program Offers Free College to Eligible Students
After three years of proven success, the Free Minds Project is recruiting new students.

A partnership between Austin Community College and the University of Texas at Austin, the Free Minds Project offers nontraditional students a chance to try college by enrolling in an interdisciplinary course that lasts two semesters and covers literature, philosophy, American history, theater, and writing.

“I think (Free Minds) is absolutely fabulous,” says ACC Professor Jerry Shepperd, who taught a class of Free Minds alumni this past spring. “It’s attempting to give people, who may not have known they had a chance for education, the opportunity to really step in and test the waters of education, to see if it’s a good match for them.”

Each class begins with a shared meal, and students develop college preparatory skills that emphasize close reading, analysis, communications, critical thinking, problem-solving, and group work.

“It’s a very engaged, seminar environment. It’s very much about adults bringing their wisdom and experience to the table,” says Free Minds Project Director Vivé Griffith.

Free Minds students range from 23 to 60 years old. Many are women in their 30s and 40s and most are parents. The project offers free tuition, textbooks, and child care.

Abbie Navarrete, 40, is a single mother of three and a graduate of the first Free Minds class in 2007. She was awarded her Associate of Arts in Philosophy from ACC in May—the first college degree awarded to a Free Minds alum. Navarrete will enroll at Edward’s University in the fall.

“Several students are right behind Abbie in getting ready to finish their degrees. I expect a few more graduates by the end of the summer,” Griffith says.

While UT administers Free Minds, the students are officially enrolled at ACC and taught by ACC professors. After completing the course, students receive six credit hours from ACC and participate in a graduation ceremony.

After graduation, they’re offered the chance to continue their education through ACC courses geared specifically for Free Minds alumni every second or third year. Although students cover their own tuition for the alumni courses, Free Minds still provides books, meals, and child care.

“At least 60 percent of our graduates have taken additional college classes, mostly at ACC, but we also have students pursuing bachelor degrees at St. Edward’s and Huston-Tillotson,” Griffith says.

A college degree isn’t the only measure of success, however. “Free Minds alumni report using the skills they gained to pursue job promotions and to be more fully engaged in their children’s education,” she adds.

The next Free Minds class will start August 2010, and applications are accepted through Monday, July 5, 2010. Further information is available at the Free Minds website.

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