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Area community college leaders favor Biden's federal free school plan

Onondaga Community College

President Joe Biden's proposal to offer free community college is being welcomed by some in New York, a state where free tuition is already available here to thousands of students under the Excelsior Scholarship. Some local community college leaders say despite New York's program, there are improvements that a federal version could make possible.

Onondaga Community College President Casey Crabill said when she graduated from high school, it was at a time when that degree was enough to enable someone to make a decent living.

"You don’t see that anymore," Crabill said. "Most positions require an associate’s degree, some kind of technical training, an apprenticeship, or a baccalaureate or higher. So, I think getting the question on the table about is 16 years of public schooling adequate is a really important debate."

Credit Onondaga Community College

Crabill said as federal lawmakers debate making community college free, there's value in making sure it's accessible to those students who can only manage part-time enrollment. Many students who have applied for New York's Excelsior Scholarship have been denied or lost the funding because they were unable to maintain the required number of credits.

"Many community colleges have large enrollments of part-time students, students who are working, sometimes they are parents who are trying to get back to school - the current financial aid system is challenging for part-time students, so a change there would be welcome," Crabill said.

Mohawk Valley Community College President Randall VanWagoner said another way a federal program may improve access to college is that students would not have to first exhaust all other scholarship opportunities in order to apply like they have to be eligible for the Excelsior Scholarship.

"Those were fairly limiting in terms of who really was able to access the Excelsior Scholarship, in contrast the free community college proposal is very exciting that keeps the access and the equity issues front and center," VanWagoner said.

VanWagoner said while he advocates making community college more accessible to more students, he recommends federal lawmakers consider some kind of income cap like New York's Excelsior Scholarship to make the program financially feasible.

Payne Horning is a reporter and producer, primarily focusing on the city of Oswego and Oswego County. He has a passion for covering local politics and how it impacts the lives of everyday citizens. Originally from Iowa, Horning moved to Muncie, Indiana to study journalism, telecommunications and political science at Ball State University. While there, he worked as a reporter and substitute host at Indiana Public Radio. He also covered the 2015 session of the Indiana General Assembly for the statewide Indiana Public Broadcasting network.