South Orange Village President Alex Torpey and Maplewood Mayor Vic DeLuca recently wrote a letter to the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders urging them to consider a plan to provide free college tuition for volunteer EMTs and firefighters. The plan would be similar to one recently implemented in Middlesex County.
The letter, which Torpey introduced at Monday’s South Orange Board of Trustee meeting, is reprinted below.
To the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders:
College tuition costs are rising. Since 1978, average college tuition costs have risen by 1,120%, outpacing food costs and even healthcare. A 2014 report from Bloomberg showed that tuition costs actually rose four times faster than the Consumer Price Index. 70% of students borrow money for college, and the average borrower will take on $33,000 of debt, adding up to a total student loan debt in the United States of $1.2 trillion as of last year.
And yet, even in difficult economic times with college and other critical costs rising so quickly, there are many men and women who continue to volunteer their time, hundreds and thousands of hours a year, risking their own safety to help others as volunteer Emergency Medical Technicians and volunteer firefighters. In South Orange, the all volunteer rescue squad contributed over 17,000 hours last year to respond to over 1,300 medical calls. Many of these volunteers are young, post-high school and college aged students. And many of them are struggling to find ways to pay for college while still finding a way to continue their incredible volunteer service to our communities.
In Middlesex County, volunteer EMT’s and Firefighters can earn college credits by taking courses for free at the county college. This plan (see links below) is an inspiring show of appreciation by Middlesex County for the volunteers their residents rely on for lifesaving work every single day, going far beyond any other programs that exist to support educational advancement for these volunteers.
We all need to do more to convince our state legislature and congress to find a better way for youth to attend college and gain the economic, social, cultural and political mobility that comes from having a college degree. And it would be great to earn that degree without committing the next five to ten years (at least) indebted to the federal government and others, which could severely limit a young person’s economic growth potential and creative contributions to our communities and country.
Here, in Essex County, you have the power to make an impact, and do so based on existing legal frameworks deployed at the county level of government in New Jersey, that could provide some level of support to help those who volunteer so much of their time to keep us all safe to allow them to begin to pursue a college education.
We rely on these volunteers not just all day, every day for “routine” emergency medical and firefighting calls, but especially during the worst of storms and most major of disasters, where they are a necessary component to the County’s emergency response plans.
Mayor DeLuca and I are requesting the Freeholder Board to study and determine if it’s feasible to implement a similar college plan for Essex County’s lifesaving volunteers.
On behalf of the hundreds of volunteer EMTs and firefighters across Essex County, I thank you for taking the time to seriously consider this measure, and would be more than happy to participate in any discussions needed for evaluating its feasibility.
As a volunteer EMT myself for over five years, seeing firsthand the kind of tremendous value these people add to our communities, and the incredible stresses they go through to provide this for no financial gains, I think that anything any of us in government can do to help them pursue a college education will make a huge difference in the lives of people who help protect ours.
South Orange Village President