Tech Company Delivers On Promise Of Free Bachelor's Degrees For City Residents And Workers

"Free college" is a topic that has come up a lot in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election.

It's all just talk at this point.

One Silicon Valley company, however, has already put free college into action.'s Working Scholars program just graduated it's first class of 14 degree recipients.

How much did they pay in tuition?

"Nothing. It cost them absolutely nothing," said's co-founder, Adrian Ridner.

Rider, along with co-founder Ben Wilson, dreamed up the idea for Working Scholars two years ago. The pair wanted to do something to give back to the company's home city of Mountain View. So, they offered anyone who lived or worked in Mountain View and did not already have a bachelor's degree a path to get one, for free.

Participants could take any college credit course at, and then earn any remaining credits and eventually a degree from Thomas Edison State University

To many, it sounded too good to be true.

“Is it real? Is this really real?,” said Lisa Gauthier when she first learned about Working Scholars. She is now part of its first graduating class.

"This is a real game-changer for me," said Gauthier who in the past had earned two associates degrees but never a bachelor's degree.

Guathier, who is the Mayor of East Palo Alto, learned about Working Scholars when representatives from made a proposal to bring the program to her city.

“I was thinking to myself, “Was this real, and my second question was that, as an elected official, can I do it?,” Gauthier said.

She was accepted into the program and pursued a degree in business and administration.

Her goal in continuing college was not only to expand the number of job opportunities afforded to her, but more importantly, to be a good example for her children and other young people.

"In my position, I'm always telling young people to get their degree," Gauthier said. "Now, I can say I did it."

In addition to the 14 graduates, Working Scholars has 400 other participants and is now operating in eight different cities.

Classmates like Tamy Rios Castro accompanied Gauthier at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts on Thursday for the Working Scholars graduation ceremony.

Rios Castro said that the tuition-free experience will allow her to focus on the next steps of her career rather than worrying about how to adjust her finances.

“It feels like a relief not to have that student debt,” she said.

One by one, each scholar was called up to the stage surrounded by friends, family and community leaders who were there to show their support.

Just like any traditional graduation, all 14 graduates wore a cap and gown and turned their tassels to the left side when they all had their degrees in-hand.

Gauthier got teary-eyed during a speech where she thanked Ridner for his selflessness in starting the Working Scholars program and her children for being the drive behind her decision to go back to school.

After graduation, when asked how she balanced being the mayor of East Palo Alto, a parent and a full-time student, Gauthier replied, “It had to be done.”

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