NEW HAVEN – On Tuesday August 24th at 3 p.m. Eastern Time, NPR’s Talk of the Nation will give Americans a chance to talk to a group of returning college students who don’t fit the conventional image but are all too typical. Shane is an aspiring music teacher and full-time sales assistant, Brandon an Iraq war veteran who has his heart set on becoming a diplomat, and Kathryn a single mother who waitresses 35 hours a week and is determined to be a Physicians Assistant. They have two things in common: like ¾ of American college students, their path to a degree is anything but a straight line; together with a Boston policeman and a Navy veteran, they starred in a video series, “Degrees of Difficulty,” which premiered on USA TODAY at the end of May.
Purple States TV produced the series in collaboration with DCTV and the Seattle-based social marketing firm Banyan Branch, with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
These three nontraditional students were absorbed in juggling responsibilities 24/7 when they heard about the online casting call. Chosen from almost 200 applicants, they jumped at the chance to share their stories with policymakers and the public. As they will discuss with NPR’s Neil Conan, they face seemingly insurmountable barriers to getting a degree:
- Shane Burrows, 24, Sierra College: “I work full time and quit my second job so I could have time for school. I can barely afford to live, let alone pay for classes and books. With rising tuition costs and (California) budget cuts cutting classes, I feel like I’ll never finish.”
- Brandon Krapf, 29, American University: “I’m glad the new GI bill is helping veterans graduate with less debt but lots of older veterans are up to their eyeballs in college loans. Going to school’s probably put me in debt a good $100k. It gets down to the point where you’re eating Ramen noodles every day.”
- Kathryn McCormick, 31, Valencia Community College: “My financial aid doesn’t stretch to meet my family’s needs. I worry about money constantly. And I worry that if I focus on making the grades I need for this very competitive credential, my children will suffer. But if I do succeed, it will mean a whole new life for me and my girls.”
Leaders of both parties say they are committed to increasing the number of US college graduates. As the Obama administration begins to implement direct student lending and other college support legislation that passed with health care reform, Talk of the Nation offers nontraditional students around the country a chance to share their real-world struggles and hopes.