Back in the spring of 2012, Erie County's community college students couldn't take advantage of a New York grant program that allows volunteer firefighters to receive tuition reimbursement in exchange for first responder service.
Fast forward to the days leading into 2015, when Erie Community College officials can now boast the state's highest enrollment numbers under the Firemen's Association of the State of New York Higher Education Learning Plan. And thanks to this increased attendance, with nearly 150 students registered as of the fall 2014 semester, ECC can report more than $500,000 in additional student tuition due to opportunities afforded under the FASNY plan.
"I am pleased to learn that a notable number of students are taking advantage of the FASNY tuition program and committing themselves to serve their volunteer fire company," said Erie County Legislator Edward Rath, a leading proponent of the program and its benefits to county residents. "This program is a great benefit for the community, fire departments, ECC and students. I hope that we continue to see an increase in participation and applaud those who have enrolled in the program, earning a quality education while serving those in need."
The Firemen's Association of the State of New York developed the plan as an incentive for people to serve in volunteer fire service. New York's volunteer fire departments are currently experiencing a critical need to recruit and retain members. As an incentive for people to serve, FASNY developed the higher education learning plan (FASNY HELP). This program provides tuition reimbursement to individuals attending community college for up to 80 credit hours and, according to ECC President Jack Quinn, provides area residents yet another way to take advantage of the three-campus college's career-focused education.
"We at ECC are very proud of the successes we've experienced through the FASNY program," he said. "We're here for the community, so we're thrilled to offer area residents yet another way to pursue affordable educational opportunities."
ECC FASNY tuition representative Tom Chmielowiec said the college has taken in approximately $534,603.41 from a combination of FASNY assistance, TAP and PEL grant monies, and student payment since the program's inception in 2012. He said 204 students are currently on ECC's roster to apply for FASNY assistance, and the college plans to welcome more applications as the successes of the program spread across the region.
"ECC is very proud and honored to be part of the FASNY program and to be able to serve our firefighters with the education needs they have," Chmielowiec said. He noted students are currently enrolled in 18 of ECC's FASNY-approved programs, including criminal justice and nursing.
Under FASNY HELP, student-volunteers are eligible to have up to 100 percent of their tuition reimbursed in exchange for maintaining their grades and fulfilling defined service requirements. They must be a "member in good standing" in one of New York's volunteer fire companies during both their school years and service payback period.
Organizers said if they're in good standing, they'll be good firefighters on the job. Steve DiPasquale, a 39-year member of the North Amherst Volunteer Fire Department, said that is essential to Erie County.
"It's with great pride to know that the volunteer firemen of Erie County have embraced the program, utilized it as it was meant to be, and, in the end, ECC has benefitted greatly," he said. "This program has been a win for all of Erie County, and I would like to thank everyone that was involved from the beginning and congratulate all on a job well done."
It's not too late for new students/recruits to take advantage of the HELP grant for the spring semester. As outlined by FASNY, students who meet the requirements, including a 4.0 grade-point average, are eligible for full reimbursement. Students recording a 3.0-3.99 GPA receive 85 percent reimbursement and a GPA between 2.0-2.99 earns 75 percent reimbursement. The grant program also requires students/volunteers meet the necessary service demands of their respective fire department. Interested residents can learn more about the program by contacting their local fire department.
For information on the program or to apply, visit www.fasny.com/index.php/resources/fasny-help, contact Chmielowiec at firstname.lastname@example.org, email HELP@fasny.com (attention: John D'Alessandro, deputy volunteer programs coordinator) or call 855-367-6933.