Carmen's Story

Education has never been important in my family. Neither of my parents had a college education, and for most of my life neither were employed. My mother grew up in Mexico in a large family that also struggled financially. She was deterred from her attempts to receive an education at a community college by the cost and the racism she faced. My father joined the navy soon after high school, and multiple health conditions combined with a lack of transportation kept him from being able to find work. He lived in a beaten-down camper trailer, where nearly every built-in appliance was broken, from the refrigerator to the shower, to even the door. When he landed in the hospital for the second time in two years due to a heart attack, we found ourselves unable to afford the medical bills necessary to keep him on life support.

I had always doubted as a child that I would ever be able to afford college, but at this point in my life, as my mental health began to suffer and my grades began to drop, I found myself truly beginning to give up hope. For the next few years, I was caught in a strange limbo where I continued to put in effort despite the belief that it would never pay off, that I would end up trapped in the same cycle as my parents and grandparents and brother. I reached a point where I had to choose: should I give up while I’m ahead, or hold onto hope?

 

I held on, and it did pay off. I am now attending community college and pursuing my second associates, and am the first in even my distant family to earn a degree. Between scholarships, financial aid, and juggling several jobs, the majority of my community college costs are covered. But when I transfer to the University of Arizona next semester, even that will not be enough. In fact, even with multiple scholarships, the Pell grant, and all the money I have been obsessively saving up over the past four years, my only option for covering all of my school and living expenses will be to work full-time while at university. For someone who struggles with mental health and will already be juggling a heavy course load of classes and homework, this ‘option’ is hardly even an option at all.

 

This is why lowering the cost of higher education is so important to me. In today's economy, it is nearly impossible to move up in the world without a degree, and yet the cost of obtaining one has risen so that it is simply unaffordable for many families. And while I now believe that I will find a way to make it work, I am more fortunate than many other students, who may feel the need to give up the same way I did years ago.

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