News: College Access & Success

“It’s So Much Harder to Get Anywhere in Life Without a Degree”

Tuesday, July 17, 2018  
Posted by: Lindsay Broderick, Staff Writer
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For students underrepresented in higher education like Matisse from Mississippi, whose story appears below, every dollar counts when piecing together a financial aid package. NCAN calls on policymakers to simplify the FAFSA and increase funding for Pell Grants and the Federal Work-Study program. Check out our complete federal policy recommendations.

Originally, Matisse Lepre and her parents lived in Florida, during which time they experienced three different hurricanes and the damage that ensued. They eventually moved to Mississippi, where – only three weeks after they moved into the new house they had just built – Hurricane Katrina destroyed it. The damage of these storms has caused Matisse and her parents to experience significant financial insecurity.

Both struggling financially and lacking a bachelor’s degree, Matisse’s parents urged her to get one. “My parents always told me I had to go to college,” she said, “because it’s so much harder to get anywhere in life without a degree.”

In high school, Matisse was a part of Woodward Hines Education Foundation’s Get2College Center. Get2College was a great assistance to Matisse as she looked toward her higher education. “They make a difference by telling you there are plenty of opportunities, you just have to seek them out and put forth effort,” Matisse said. The Get2College center helped her with a variety of college- and career-oriented subjects. Even today, Matisse still finds them supportive.

“I actually had an appointment there the other day to be helped with financial aid paperwork,” she said. “I really had no idea what I was doing, but I was lucky enough to have Josh Thompson, Assistant Director of Outreach at Get2College, to walk me through the process.”

When looking at her college options, Matisse compared the prices of Mississippi State University and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College (MGCCC). There was no question she would attend community college to save her parents some money. But applying for financial aid proved a difficult task. Matisse remembers the FAFSA being the hardest part of applying to college. Get2College was a great support system throughout the process of completing financial aid paperwork.

In the end, Matisse received state aid, a Pell Grant, the HELP Grant from RiseUp! Mississippi, and the full-tuition scholarship given by the honors college program at MGCCCto cover the costs of her first year of community college. With all of this aid, Matisse was able to attend college for free. After her first year, however, the state made significant cuts to student aid. Although the honors college scholarship covered her tuition costs, Matisse had to start working full-time as a waitress to cover her other bills.

Despite all the struggles she faced in applying to college, Matisse found a supportive community once she matriculated, especially in MGCCC’s honors college. Through the program, Matisse received not just the full-tuition scholarship, but also priority course registration and other academic benefits. The college gave her a great group of friends and helped her build strong relationships with professors.

"I wasn't an A+ student in high school. I didn't have as much motivation. But once I got to MGCCC and saw how much everybody cared it motivated me to seek out opportunities and it opened a million different doors,” Matisse said. “Once I started at MGCCC and took some classes I've become really into going to school and learning, and the whole pursuit of knowledge. When I took a psychology class I was like, 'This is the way I can help people; this is what I want to do with my life.’”

Matisse will start her junior year in the fall at the University of Southern Mississippi. She is majoring in psychology and wants to pursue a career in education and child psychology.