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Malcom Michael, Buffalo State

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Since I was adopted from Russia by my single mother who possess a PHD in English literature, the importance of my education has been emphasized from early on in my life.   As my high school years elapsed and the daunting reality of the real world loomed over my conscience, I found myself applying to community college. To my surprise there were a lot more hurdles I had to overcome then just an entrance exam. Despite New York State offering a wide variety of financial aid support to students, I was unable to qualify for any financial aid.  Thus, my mother and I took loans to supplement the cost of community college. By the end of my two year program the debt I had accumulated was over $9000. With my Associates Degree in Criminal Justice I transferred to Buffalo State College where I am now a senior studying Political Science. As my first year at Buffalo State waned into the past I had accumulated a loan which surpassed $20,000. During the summer prior to my senior year I moved from Buffalo State campus into an apartment close to campus. The summer of 2017 was the beginning to a life full of relentless stress and physical pain. As bills began to pile up I found myself working full time at a local pizzeria.  Luckily for the first time I was actually able to receive financial help from the New York State government through the new Excelsior Scholarship. Which was even harder to receive than loans. Along with the hoops one has to jump through, the programs has many restrictions which have the potential of crippling students. An example of one of these restricting parameters is the required number of credits a student must take during a semester in order to receive the financial support. Over my senior year here at Buffalo State College I have been working 40+ hours a week while being a full time student. The financial burden of living expenses such as rent, utilities, food etc., has made it increasingly difficult to focus and dedicate spare time to school. The fear of eviction and the potential of being homeless is a daunting reality for students who fully support themselves. I often find myself worrying about my finances, rather than worrying about important school assignments.

Domonique Baker, SUNY New Paltz

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I first got a Medical Assisting certificate at Ridely Lowell which is a trade school which I am currently in $18,000 in debt for. l then got my Associates at Dutchess Community College in psychology.  I am now going for my Bachelors in Psychology. I didn’t qualify for any financial aid because I am independent, even though I only make $25,000 a year. I work full time to cover outside expenses like food, rent, utilities, a car.  I got a better job at a hospital recently which pays a little bit more. I take out loans for New Paltz. If I get a C or above in school my full time job gives me a grant of $2500 toward tuition. I work full time over night so I only sleep 3 hours a night. Its impossible to study.
If college was free I wouldn’t have to work so hard maybe just part time, it would greatly improve my college experience, I’d get to spend more time studying, and be able to meet deadlines. Now I record my notes to play while I’m driving. I have to take a course over because I got a D, it was a course that started at 11am but I got out of work at 9:30am and sleep deprivation made it hard to stay awake through the class. I now have to retake the class but its full. I often have trouble registering for a class because it interferes with work, especially since I live 30 minutes from campus. If the class is too close to 5pm or right after then I can’t take it. I wanted to get a concentration in organizational psychology but a lot of the required courses were at 8 am and since my job wants me to be at work that early it’s not realistic. I need the job though, so what can I do?

This limits the options I have for my future prospects of becoming a Physician’s Assistant. I am being constrained by these financial factors. I graduated in high school in 2008, I never thought I would even achieve a Bachelor’s degree. Some semesters I can only afford to go to school part time. I’ve had to keep stopping. I’m surprised I’m graduating. Even to pay for this semester I had to put it on a credit card because the tuition assistance from my job doesn’t kick in until later. I applied for the Excelsior Scholarship, one day I was on hold for 20 minutes, then 40 minutes. They said I didn’t have enough credits, I was in school for too many semesters, they said over the phone that as long as I don’t have a bachelors and meet the income eligibility I’d get it, but in the 11th hour of the last day they denied it because of credits. When I call them and talk to them no one knows anything. I spoke to a woman at the hospital who said the same thing. Financial aid said to just call the website. The website would say call TAP then you’re on hold for 40 minutes. I don’t blame the financial aid people, the people at the Excelsior office needed to be more informed.