College vote significant in District 23

By TRACY MITRANO

The start of a new school year brings excitement and promise-but at a cost. Many students at Jamestown Community College and the State University of New York at Fredonia face challenges financing their education: they take out loans to pay for food, rent, books, and other necessities. Reporting by the Pew Charitable Trust suggests that the percent of community college students who must borrow to finance their education has sharply increased in recent years.

In 2000, only 15 percent of first-year community college students borrowed; in 2012, 27 percent of these students did so. In 2016, New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli released a report stating that the average student loan balance of New York state residents was $32,200 in 2015. Graduates carry the burden of student loan debt for decades. Education should not come at such a cost. I believe every student loan should be interest-free and that profit-obsessed banks should no longer influence how Congress sets interest rates.

I come from a background that is similar to many of the working- and middle-class students here at Jamestown Community College. My parents ran a small restaurant in downtown Rochester. They sacrificed so that I could be the first person in my family to attend college. Thanks to them, and to generous financial aid, I graduated from the University of Rochester and went on to earn a Ph.D. in history from Binghamton University and a law degree from Cornell. That education prepared me to pursue a career in cybersecurity. Today, I am the Democratic nominee for Congress in this district. I will be forever grateful for the knowledge and insight that these schools imparted to me.

College has value. Education has value. It prepares us for the future, trains the next generation of engineers and entrepreneurs, teachers and nurses. I don’t know if my opponent for New York’s 23rd Congressional district, Republican Tom Reed, understands this. According to a recent Pew Research Center study, 58 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say that they believe colleges and universities have a negative effect in the United States. Does the Congressman share this sentiment? Does he understand the unique challenges that many community college students face in pursuing their degrees? Given his almost complete silence on the subject of ruinous student loan interest rates, I am forced to conclude that he either does not believe that community college is important, or he does not understand the difficulties that students undergo to access it.

State colleges were designed to be uniquely democratic and American institutions. They open their doors to all who come ready and eager to learn. They offer certificate, technical and continuing-education programs, as well as two-year general education credits that transfer to four-year schools. Jamestown attracts many students from outside Chautauqua and Cattaraugus Counties but, like most community colleges, it remains deeply enmeshed in its founding communities.

So, to every new and returning Jamestown Community College and SUNY Fredonia student, I say: Welcome back. I hope that this semester is a fruitful one for you, one of growth and learning. I also hope that, this fall, you take the time to think about the upcoming midterm elections. If and how you vote this Nov. 6 could well determine the kind of society and political culture that will shape your lives for decades to come.

New York’s 23rd District trends red, but Democrat candidates with democratic values win when students vote. If you are already registered to vote and cannot vote in person, be sure to apply for an absentee ballot wherever you live. When you receive it, vote and mail it in. If you have not registered, make registering to vote here a major priority before October 12th. Be true to the Chautauqua County spirit and let your voice be heard. Vote.

Tracy Mitrano is the Democratic candidate for New York’s 23rd Congressional seat.

You must be a registered voter in order to vote in the general or primary elections. To register in New York State you must be a United States citizen, be 18 years old by the date of the election you want to vote, live at your present address for at least 30 days before an election, and not claim the right to vote elsewhere. A dormitory address is considered a legitimate residence. For registration forms and more information go to the Steuben County Board of Elections website () or the Cattaraugus Board of Election, website (

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