For some students going to college is just another thing to do after high school, for others it is expected of them to attend so they can follow a family tradition, but for junior Jurnee Taylor, it was about breaking her family’s generational curse of not graduating from college that kept her motivated to continue her education
“My family has done their best with the little they had, and receiving my degree will open doors for not only myself but the generations after me,” Taylor said. “Being able to not only attend college but actually finishing would be a blessing.”
Taylor, originally from Little Rock, Arkansas, pays out-of-state tuition, which classifies her as an out of state student. Currently the U of M has two out of state cost. One for students like Taylor who live within a 250-mile radius of the school and another for students who live further outside of the campus. This sets her tuition between $8,000 and $20,000.
When it came to choosing a college, money was definitely a factor, but while it would have been cheaper to attend a university in Arkansas, Taylor said she opted to go to a school that she would enjoy and would allow her to flourish even after graduation.
Zach Carr, who teaches ACAD a course dedicated to helping freshman with the transition into collegiate life that focuses heavily on time management, said that students are coming to college because of its value in society. “Students know that if they don’t do this then they can’t make it to the next level of where they want to be in life,” he said.
Carr believes that same value is what keeps students like Taylor engaged even if it means you have to break the bank to do so, and she is determined to be the first in her family to earn a degree. Despite 83 percent of students receiving some sort of financial assistance from the University of Memphis, students are forced to work multiple jobs to cover the additional cost of books, food, rent and other bills. Taylor is just one part of the over 71 percent of college students who work at least 30 hours a week to pay for school according to a Georgetown University Research Study.
Taylor has a long list of obligations: morale captain for Up ’til Dawn, a Frosh Camp counselor, an orientation guide for the Office of Recruitment, vice president of the National Association of Black Journalists, a reporter for The Daily Helmsman, a student ambassador for Tiger Elite, a football recruiter, an intern at Leadership Memphis with their marketing and communications team, a server at One & Only Barbecue, and a student worker at the University Center.
“A heavy schedule like that can be tiring to some students,” Carr said. “I see a lot of students who are really good with the involvement and work aspect but really struggle with the school part.” He says he even has to discourage some students from adding on more to their plates.
Other students like senior Kristen Belford agree with Carr that it can be hard to balance everything.
“People put a lot of pressure on you especially when it comes to what comes after college, so you feel like you should do everything,” Belford said.
Kiara Jones coordinator of events and services at the University Center where Taylor works says that they work with students to coordinate their schedules around classes and their student organization meeting to combat the problem of students being imbalanced in the classroom.
“We recognize that they are students first, so we are strategic about planning around their class schedules and meeting times for organizations, but we always make sure to not schedule them for while they are in class,” Jones said.
“The real question is how can schools better encourage students to do well in school while still having to pay for it,” Carr said. “[The Student Leadership and Involvement Office] tries to help by making students meet GPA requirements to participate in certain activities.”
Jones said that students also have to have maintain a certain GPA to keep their jobs with the University Center.
While the school does offer financial aid and scholarships, students at the U of M are often forced to take on a heavy load because of their scholarship requirements, according to Carr. (A scholarship program he oversees requires students to be involved in at least two campus organizations and complete ten hours of community service.) Only one of the U of M scholarships offer students a full ride to the university.
According to the University of Memphis scholarship office website, the highest valued scholarship the U of M offers is the Cecil C. Humphrey’s Merit Scholarship, which offers an award of $9,700.00. The site also states criteria for qualification is to be a “National Merit/National Achievement finalists listing the University of Memphis as their first choice with the National Merit Scholarship Corporation by the required deadline.” This only pertains to about 15,000 high school students in the U.S.
There are seven other awards offered by the U of M, two of them only select about 50 incoming freshmen, two others are only offered to those who attended high school in certain counties in Tennessee (one extends to surrounding counties in Arkansas and Mississippi), The other three require a minimum of a 3.0 GPA and at least a score of 25 on the ACT.
While other private scholarships are available to apply for, the requirements for the aid that the U of M offers does not represent the average student upon their arrival to the school. The average ACT score of an incoming freshman is 23, while the average GPA of first-time freshman does represent the available scholarships at 3.36.
The other issue with the aid the U of M offers is the lack of aid available to students outside of Tennessee. An offer of $3,000 – $6,000 a year is something, but it still leaves out of state students with little help to combat the $20,615 price tag that comes with attending the University of Memphis.
Californian Aiden Willis, who is a student at the U of M, knows this all too well. “I had to combine a lot of different scholarships over the years to even make coming here a possibility,” she said. “I still have to set up a payment plan to pay for what [the scholarships], don’t cover.
The university does offer student positions across various department in addition to work-study jobs, but most only pay minimum wage or a little above students get trapped in the same cycle of doing what they can and working multiple jobs to make it.
“Campus jobs are good because they’re convenient and work around your school schedule, but I also know that they won’t do much to add help pay for school,” Carr said.
But Taylor doesn’t let the long hours between school and work kill her spirit because she it will all pay off.
“I want to open doors for my family, give them opportunities like traveling the world. The way I look at it is, if not me, then who,” Taylor said. “This is my journey, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.”