Balancing on a tight wire
Wendy George never thought it could happen to her. She was married with three children when the white picket fence surrounding her perfectly normal life splintered into two jagged spears: divorce and lack of child support. It was the beginning of a downward spiral. "Logically, it is hard for people to grasp. When you have a home and are going to the hardware store to buy something, you don't think about the people in line at the food bank. Until you have something unexpected happen, like the loss of a job or having to take care of parents, you cannot truly understand the enormity of the problem," George said.
George and her children lived paycheck to paycheck in a one-bedroom apartment. Unexpected expenses shifted her circumstances from bad to worse. When one child came down with strep throat, it wasn't long before the other two were sick. The medical bills multiplied quickly. One summer, she didn't have the money to pay her rent. Thankfully, she was able to temporarily relocate her family to the Samaritan Inn, Collin County's homeless shelter.
"We followed strict rules and attended meetings at the Samaritan Inn. There are many people who truly need it. It is not a handout—it is a hand up," she said.
George desperately wanted her girls to see that she could make it in college. Scholarships to attend Collin College were her saving grace.
George completed an associate degree from Collin College in June 2011 and transferred to Pepperdine University. She graduates with a degree in sociology and a minor in industrial and organizational psychology this year and plans to pursue a master's degree in conflict resolution.
George says she could never have done this on her own. "I would never have been accepted to Pepperdine if I didn't receive scholarships at Collin.
I would never have earned a degree at Collin College without the words of wisdom and assistance of Dr. Cheryl Wiltse (professor of English), Frank Mayhew (professor of history), Cheri Jack (associate dean of students at Preston Ridge Campus) and District President Cary Israel."
Former vice president of service in Collin's Phi Theta Kappa honor society, George received one of 50 national Coca-Cola scholarships to continue her education at a university. She says she began giving back in Dr. Wiltse's service learning class when she volunteered at Legal Aid of Northwest Texas. Soon she was volunteering for Meals on Wheels, Frisco Family Services, Girls on the Run, Clothe a Child, Volunteer Outreach in Civic Engagement and Earth Day events in Frisco and McKinney while she maintained a 3.96 grade point average.
According to George, scholarships create an amazing domino effect.
"People earn degrees, attain good jobs and the community improves. That is what community is all about. If you give back through scholarships, you allow individuals who are less fortunate to have the opportunity to succeed. These people could invent something and change the world. Giving back pulls the community together."
Falling through the cracks
George and her children are not the only ones who were struggling to make it. This academic year approximately 27,000 students applied for financial assistance via scholarships and financial aid at Collin College. However, only about 10,000 students received financial aid or scholarships. Students are in dire need of scholarships, and the community needs these individuals to fill thousands of upcoming job openings.
According to a report from Georgetown University Center, there will be 55 million job openings in the economy through 2020, which includes 24 million from newly created jobs and 31 million due to baby boom retirements.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, occupations with the largest employment growth through 2022 include health care professions, accounting and auditing, software development and management analysis.
Dispelling scholarship myths
It is evident that the community needs the workers, and people want the education, so why can't colleges just raise tuition and use that funding for scholarships? This is against the law. Tuition money from public colleges and universities cannot be used for scholarships. So how does Collin College provide scholarships to students? The foundation asks for donations from local heroes who understand the power of education. These include corporations, philanthropists, independent foundations, organizations and Collin College employees.
At Collin College, 100 percent of scholarship funds go directly to students, and the Board of Trustees continues to keep Collin College tuition the lowest in the state in an effort to make college affordable for everyone.
Why don't students and their parents just take out more loans?
According to an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, 71 percent of students who graduated from four-year colleges in 2012 had student loans, an average of $29,400.
According to Cary A. Israel, district president of Collin College, debt is causing people to rethink going to college.
"There is only so much money a person can take out in loans. You can't get a loan for retirement, so some parents are putting themselves in a precarious position by taking on large educational debt for their children. People have to put food on the table," said Israel.
Israel understands the plight of students like George. The son of a World War II veteran, he grew up in a blue-collar family. He remembers his father working 15-hour days and his mother taking on countless part-time jobs. He and his twin brother were the first to attend college at the constant urging of their mother who wished they would escape a difficult life.
Israel worked several jobs in college, including washing pots and pans. He spent his summers and breaks pouring concrete and painting dorm rooms. Though he received a national defense loan, he never knew if he would have enough funds to make it through another semester.
"Without loans and scholarships, there is no question; I would not have made it. I was holding three jobs and had to take out loans. Even small scholarships relieved the pressure in my head—I would have enough money to register for the next semester."
Israel has never forgotten that anxiety, and he relentlessly looks for programs that will provide students with viable future jobs.
"It is amazing what our students do—balancing work and family and coming to college. Today, even with three jobs I couldn't attend college on the money I received. You can't pull yourself up by your bootstraps when you don't have any shoes," Israel said.
Is education a right or a privilege?
Some might say that education straddles the fence between a right and a privilege. In the short term, people can survive without it, but in the long term they may struggle their entire lives.
According to Israel, there are few things that can catapult a person into a completely new economic situation and provide a novel perspective of life. Education has the power to do that.
"An education doesn't guarantee that you will stay employed or be successful, but it does give you opportunities to succeed and opens doors to jobs because employers look at people with credentials first. An education is liberating. I am truly thankful for the people that give money for scholarships, but we have more to accomplish."