LVUSD IT Staffer Jacob Rodriguez Gets Free College Benefits

Jacob Rodriguez started his career at Lucerne Valley Unified School District as a substitute custodian five years ago. When a position opened in the district’s IT department soon after, Rodriguez jumped at the chance to apply, even though he wasn’t sure he had enough experience.  
 
“I promised them I’d go back to school to get more qualified,” Rodriguez says. “They gave me a chance.” 
 
Rodriguez, a member of the California School Employees Association (CSEA) Local 743, initially went to an online school where he was paying $2,500 a month, plus student loans. When he saw an email from his union about the Union Plus Free College Program, he made the no-brainer decision to switch schools.  
 
The Union Plus Free College Program partners with AFSCME and Eastern Gateway Community College (EGCC) to offer online courses and degree programs with no out-of-pocket cost to active or retired union members and their eligible family members, including spouses and children. Unemployed, furloughed, and laid off union workers and their extended families are eligible to enroll as well. 
 
On the road to his business management degree, Rodriguez took a wide variety of classes, from public speaking and philosophy to English and ethics and labor management. Four months into his studies, Rodriguez was able to enroll in an embedded optional certificate program in cyber security without having to take more classes or lose credits.  
 
“The program is really good,” he says. “I really liked my classes.  
 
Rodriguez recently took on the role of secretary in his local, saying it’s his way of giving back to his union.  
 
“The [Union Plus] program saved me $50,000 to $60,000,” he estimates. 
 
Rodriguez got his associate degree from EGCC in December 2020 and is expected to be promoted at work. But he’s not done yet. Rodriguez is back in school and working toward his bachelor’s degree through the Union Plus Bachelor’s Degree Completion Program.  
 
Through an academic partnership with Central State University, the Union Plus Bachelor’s Degree Completion Program offers union members and their families education grants that covers all tuition, fees, and e-books. To be eligible, students must have already earned an associate degree or have 60 or more transferable credits and a minimum 2.2 GPA. 
 
Rodriguez plans to earn his bachelor’s in business management with a cybersecurity focus, building on his associate degree.  
 
Rodriguez says he recommends the Free College and Bachelor’s Degree Completion benefits to his coworkers and fellow union members, though he does warn them it’s hard work.  
 
“You have to be focused, you have to put in the time,” he says. “I’m so regimented. I get home, then finish my homework, hang out with my kids and my wife, and then watch some TV.” 
 
Rodriguez acknowledged that some days he’s had to give up free time to do schoolwork, but knows in the end, it will be worth it. 
 
“I like doing that kind of stuff,” he says. “When I get my bachelor’s, I’ll have so much free time I won’t know what to do with it.” 
 
To learn more about the Free College Program, visit unionplusfreecollege.org.
 
To learn more about the Bachelor’s Degree Completion Program, visit bachelorsdegree.unionplus.org.