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Free college degree for volunteer firefighters, EMS

By TRAVIS WEIK - tweik@thecouriertimes.com

Rural communities depend on volunteer firefighters and EMTs – often their own neighbors – to save the day when a crisis happens.

It’s estimated that 70 percent of all firefighters and emergency responders are volunteers. Volunteer numbers, unfortunately, have fallen over the past few years. 

The Indiana Volunteer Firefighters Association (IVFA) has teamed up with Ivy Tech Community College to encourage more people to volunteer their life-saving skills to these far-flung towns.

Ivy Tech and the IVFA have joined forces to offer a Public Safety Scholarship to any active volunteer firefighter or emergency medical personnel in the state.

Through this scholarship, anyone who is volunteering as a firefighter or EMT can earn their Ivy Tech associate’s degree free.

“It is to address the shortage of volunteer first responders across the state,” said Steve Anderson, former president of the Indiana Volunteer Firefighter’s Association. “Actually, nationwide the number of volunteers has been decreasing. This is going to be a huge recruitment tool, but it’s also available for the retention of the current members as well.”

Jennifer Gasiorek of Ivy Tech said degree programs average about $8,000, depending on fees and other program costs. These costs are all included in the IVFA scholarship program.

The scholarship is available to future and current Ivy Tech students, but those students must maintain satisfactorily academic progress while staying in good standing with their volunteer department. The offer covers all courses offered by Ivy Tech, with the exception of Flight Aviation and General Studies.

Ivy Tech is funding the pilot program for the next two academic years, starting in January of 2020. According to an frequently asked questions (FAQ) sheet from IVFA, Ivy Tech is providing up to $250,000 for the pilot program.

According to the FAQ sheet, students will be required to file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and apply for state and federal aid before the Public Safety Scholarship kicks in.

Associate’s degrees and credits from Ivy Tech are transferable to any Indiana state school.

The idea for the Public Safety Scholarship originated from a proposed bill by Indiana House Republicans during this year’s legislative session. In 2022, state lawmakers will review Ivy Tech’s results for possible expansion.

Those interested in the offer can find more information on the association’s website at www.ivfa.org. Interested applicants can apply through at www.ivytech.edu/32579.html or by calling 888-489-5463.