“It Seems Like Every Semester [the Cost of College] Goes up a Little Bit More."
Thursday, October 5, 2017
Posted by: Kim Szarmach, Communications Intern
For students under-represented in higher education, every dollar counts when piecing together a financial aid package. And their ability to obtain those dollars and succeed in college depends on policymakers establishing a Streamlined FAFSA and approving increased, sustainable funding for need-based aid like Pell Grants and Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, as well as programs like Federal Work-Study, AmeriCorps, and Public Service Loan Forgiveness.
When Darius Spurlock was a freshman in high school he saw his name posted on a list of students whose GPAs were too low to allow them to attend an upcoming field trip.
“My name on the list was large and it was in red print," Darius said. "Once I saw at the top that these were the students who couldn’t participate, it kind of made my heart sink. I had to make up my mind … this was going to be the last time my name was on that list.”
Darius never forgot his promise to stay off that list, and he graduated high school with a 3.89 GPA. He's now in his junior year at Louisiana State University studying Chemistry and Secondary Education. But it wasn't just hard work and determination that got Darius to where he is today.
Darius's high school was served by the federally funded GEAR UP Louisiana program, based within the Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance (LOSFA). GEAR UP helped Darius, and other first-generation students like him, start thinking about college from a young age and provided him with the resources he needed to prepare for it.
“When I got to high school … I realized, ‘hey, I need to get myself together, I need my grades to be on point, I need to get my GPA and my ACT [scores up] so that I can actually go to college,’” Darius said. “I’m sure I wouldn’t be here today if I didn’t start taking my academics seriously in high school.”
Darius is able to go to college practically debt-free thanks to his academic merits, state and federal financial aid. He receives the TOPS Scholarship for Louisiana students attending an in-state college or university, as well as a Pell Grant. Darius said he has only had to take out $3,000 in student loans because of these grants.
And because of GEAR UP, Darius said, applying for college and filling out the FAFSA was relatively easy since he had a support network to help him figure out how to get everything done. LOSFA helped him pay for his application fees.
Even with the various forms of financial assistance he’s received, Darius still has to work to be able to pay for bills and daily living expenses. He has a paid internship with LOFSA and said he would like to start working at a grocery store on the weekends for some extra cash.
“It seems like every semester [the cost of college] goes up a little bit more,” Darius said, explaining why he feels the need to work more hours.
Darius dreams of becoming an educator after he becomes the first member of his family to graduate college, in 2019. He said he thinks it's important for students who don't necessarily have role models at home to have adults to look up to at school.
He attributed part of his academic success to a teacher who took the time to get to know him and make him feel valued in the classroom.
"I would like to give back and help students because in elementary school I was one of those students that was a little bad," Darius said. "There was this educator who invested time in me. She stopped by my house, she gave me books, she took me to the local Burger King. I would like to be able to do that for someone else.”