Students stay afloat in a tumultuous economy
Kimberley Garcia decided she wanted to make more than $7 an hour.
There was no opportunity to move up the ladder at her job cleaning hotel rooms, so the wife and mother of two decided to apply to Central New Mexico Community College (CNM).
She was excited, but her joy only lasted a few weeks. She soon found out going to school meant putting her job status in peril. Because of her class schedule, Garcia was unable to work the hours her employer needed her to. Garcia lost her job and so did her husband, who worked for a small construction company that folded under the weight of the poor housing market. Garcia and her husband were late on rent and in danger of getting kicked out of their home. Both were attending classes at CNM, and they didn’t want to quit.
The Garcias turned to the CNM Foundation, which provides students with funds for things like utility bills, food, gas, prescription drugs and car repairs. They were given several hundred dollars for rent and textbooks so they could keep going to school. “I know this is my only chance,” Garcia says. “If I fail now, I'm not gonna be able to do this again.”
Garcia and her husband are part of a larger trend at CNM. Over the last few weeks, the CNM Foundation has seen applications for financial aid triple. Lisa McCulloch, director of development at CNM, says the students who ask for help aren’t looking for a handout; they’re trying to find a way to keep hitting the books. “Whereas some people are afraid to open their statements for their stock portfolios, we have students who are doing everything they can just to stay in school,” McCulloch says. “Oftentimes they’re going without electricity and continuing their education.”
CNM and Santa Fe Community College have seen their enrollment go up significantly--about 8 percent--this fall semester. Santa Fe Community College spokesperson Todd Eric Lovato says during times when the job market is weak, people look for ways to bolster their credentials. “People are retrenching their careers and adapting to this wintery economy,” Lovato says. “They’re seeing higher education as a means of combating these tough times.”
Dropout numbers weren't available for the fall semester, but Ann Lyn Hall, director of student transition programs at CNM, says when students leave school, it's commonly because of financial constraints. "It's life reasons like transportation, housing and daycare that people often drop out," Hall says. "When people make it to that point of graduating, they've often been able to address some of these critical barriers in their life."
When deciding whether to award scholarships or funding to students, the CNM Foundation requires that students send in a written letter explaining why they need financial assistance. Students must also provide two letters of support from faculty that vouch for the applicants’ commitment to academics. The Foundation’s Executive Director Robin Brule says grade point average is considered, but it’s not the most important factor. “We're not looking for grades,” Brule says. “We're looking for motivation, intention and commitment.”
Those who get help from the Foundation often have jobs, families and little expendable income. “Things like gas and food prices going up can really make or break a student's success,” Brule says. “Our students are fighters and they have great resiliency. They just need a little help to get there.”
Garcia says she’s eager to contribute more to society and the economy by getting a better-paying job. She and her husband noticed an immediate change in their home life since they started taking classes at CNM. “We're all able to talk to each other a lot more calmly,” Garcia says. “We're not as frustrated. We know our life has direction and it makes us feel more secure with everybody and everything that's going on.”
Garcia has also seen a change in her two sons’ attitude toward school. “They’re getting into doing their homework and watching us do ours,” Garcia says. “We’re all brimming with pride.”