EATON — Claire Baez-Stile, an office assistant at Central New York DDSO, is 57 years old but she feels like her life is starting all over again.

She said she feels this way largely because she is taking advantage of the AFSCME Free College Benefit.

“I feel like my life has just begun because my children are grown, I feel good and I’m at a very good agency,” Baez-Stile said. “So, this (program) is a fantastic opportunity for me. I’m experiencing no out-of-pocket expenses, so it’s a wonderful thing our union is offering to help a person move forward. There’s no reason not to [pursue my education].”

The AFSCME Free College Benefit, offered in partnership with Eastern Gateway Community College in Ohio, offers our active and retiree members and their eligible family members the chance to earn an associate’s degree online from anywhere in the country at no out-of-pocket cost to members.

“My youngest [child]is in college right now, and she’s in a traditional private college,” Baez-Stile said. “If it wasn’t for Eastern Gateway College and the agreement our union has with them, I would not be able to afford to go back to school because I am paying for my daughter’s education.”

Benefits of non-traditional college
Online college could be a deterrent for some people, but Baez-Stile enjoys the freedom to complete her coursework at her own pace and interaction from other students.

“You can do your work whatever time of day is good for you,” Baez-Stile said. “Usually, it’s from week-to-week and they give you a submission date.”

The hardest part, she admits, is just motivating yourself and getting up the confidence to do the work all on the computer — particularly if you’re older and feel a little technologically behind the times.

But Baez-Stile said that Eastern Gateway is extremely accommodating.

“I found that [the college is]very open to making an appointment online and they call you at your convenience,” she said. “You can sit in front of your computer and they’ll interact with you and help you set things up, which is very important, especially in the beginning.”

Benefits ‘so worth it’
Baez-Stile worked in the private sector before getting married and raising her three children. Once they were older, she tried going back to school to continue her education, but found traditional college challenging at that point in her life.

“I found it was hard for me in the winter,” Baez-Stile said. “I couldn’t, as an older person, handle carrying the books and going through the traditional procedures.” She finished the coursework she could handle, and then went on to try some online classes.

Baez-Stile began working at the Mohawk Valley Psychiatric Center in 2018. She learned about the free college benefit the first time at her new hire orientation training.

“I was given the information for the college benefit being offered and so I thought,‘this is fantastic,’” Baez-Stile said. “I’m paying my dues. The benefits [of union membership]are tremendous and so worth it.”

When she transferred to Central New York DDSO a year later, she was given the same information about the college benefit at her orientation. This time, Baez-Stile proudly exclaimed she was already taking advantage of it.

Now, Baez-Stile has over 40 college credits, a 4.0 grade point average, and even made the Dean’s List.
But the best part of her college experience is that she gets to share it with her youngest daughter.

“It was great for me to call her up and tell her that I made the Dean’s List because she made her Dean’s List,” Baez-Stile said. “I got to watch her receive her certificate and I got a letter in my email. We’re both on the Dean’s List at the same time, how cool is that? It’s been a wonderful dynamic.”

Learn more about the program at or call 888-590-9009.

— Nicholas Newcomb


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