Hot College Discount Alert – New York Volunteer Firefighters Can Go to College for Free
January 23, 2014

We’re always pleased to spread the word about any program that helps students come out of college with less debt, so today we’ll take a look at the New York Fire Department’s tuition assistance plan. The program is offered by the Fireman’s Association of the State of New York (FASNY) and is called HELP, which stands for Higher Education Learning Plan.

The plan was developed to entice volunteers because New York state’s volunteer fire departments have a critical manpower shortage. To recruit and retain volunteers, FASNY HELP offers tuition reimbursement for local community colleges for up to 80 hours. Student can be reimbursed for 100% of their tuition for a community college located within 50 miles of their home.

FASNY HELP Eligibility

To be eligible, candidates cannot have a bachelor’s degree or have accumulated 80 hours of college credits. You also have to accept all other sources of free financial aid including Pell grants, TAP awards and any applicable scholarships. The funds are sent directly to the community college to pay amounts owed by the firefighter/student for their semester of schooling.

There is a sliding reimbursement scale based on grades:

  • 4.0            (A average) = 100% reimbursement
  • 3.0-3.99 (B average) =  85% reimbursement
  • 2.0-2.99 (C average) =  75% reimbursement
Volunteer firefighters can get free tuition

Student volunteer firefighters from Cornell
Image source: Cornell.edu

FASNY HELP Service Obligations

You don’t have to start serving as a volunteer firefighter until you have completed your 80 hours or have withdrawn from the community college program. You do have to maintain certain levels of activity and participate in training as defined by the fire department they are associated with.

The longer you use the program, the greater your service requirement will be. Here’s what you’ll owe to FASNY depending on how heavily you utilize the program: 

  • 46-80 credit hours paid = four years of volunteerism
  • 31-45  credit hours paid = three years of volunteerism
  • 16-30  credit hours paid = two years of volunteerism
  •   1-15   credit hours paid = one year of volunteerism
Student firefighter in New York

Check out programs for free tuition from FDNY
Image source: NFPA.org

FASNY HELP Caveats

If you finish up your two years of community college and decide to go on to pursue a bachelor’s, you can get a deferment on your service during the time you are in college. This is a one-time only shot and you have to stay in school continuously to maintain the service deferment. Deferment lasts up to three years. You can also get a service deferment if you join the military after participating in FASNY HELP.

The HELP program offers great benefits but doesn’t give second chances for non-compliance with any of its standards. If you don’t keep up with volunteer obligations, you’ll be kicked from the program and will have to pay back funds you received. Those that leave the program will have to pay back 20% per year of service they don’t meet.

To find a fire department near you that accepts volunteers, click here or attend the annual recruiting event on April 26-27th of 2014.

If you do have to borrow to get your degree, use Tuition.io’s free student loan tool to track, manage and optimize your debt. Be sure to read our blog to learn about other programs to help you pay for school and news on student loans.