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Mesa students will now get an extra leg up when it comes to paying for college tuition. 

The city of Mesa is starting a new program to help students pay for higher education costs left over after applying federal aid, Mayor John Giles announced in his State of the City address this week.

Students from local high schools who have a GPA of at least 2.25 and demonstrate financial need through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) will be able to attend Mesa Community College for two years for free.

City spokeswoman Melissa Randazzo said the city will contribute $100,000 from its general fund each year. Giles said partnerships with businesses and schools will also help pay for the project. 

The city has already raised more than half of what it needs to fund 600 students for the first few years of the program, which Randazzo said is expected to begin in spring 2021. 

The Mesa Achieves Higher Education Task Force, which Giles created last year, developed the program and recommended it to the City Council, which approved moving forward with it last week.

The task force is working toward Achieve60AZ, an initiative to have the share of Arizona adults, ages 25 to 64, who hold a postsecondary credential or degree reach 60% by 2030. Only 45% of the city’s population currently holds higher than a high school diploma. 

The task force found during its research that each resident “currently disconnected from their educational pathway” is about an $800,000 economic loss to the city.

“This [program] will allow us to develop our workforce and supply a pipeline of qualified employees for companies like those represented today,” Giles said in his address. “This is really a program in which everyone benefits.”