The Road From Graduation To College: Paved With Financial Choices

Liana Teixeira PhotoFirst-generation high school graduate Melesio Rodriguez turned his tassel Monday night as he set off for a new challenge at Southern Connecticut State University—avoiding crippling debt in the process.

Mexican-born Rodriguez was one of 78 seniors who received diplomas at the Sound School graduation ceremony held on the school’s front courtyard, overlooking the New Haven Harbor. He was one of 1,061 seniors who are scheduled to receive diplomas this week.

Many of those graduates face a tough choice as they head to college: How to avoid joining a “boomerang” generation of students amassing crippling levels of debt. Rodriguez’s tale shows that even top-performing students have to weigh academics versus finances.

Rodriguez’s mother emigrated from Mexico almost 20 years ago to give Rodriguez and his two brothers a better life. He graduated Sound with honors.

As a first-generation student, Rodriguez said there’s “a lot of pressure” to accomplish something. His mother, aunt and uncle were there to help him every step of the way.

His father was not in the picture when Rodriguez was growing up. He said that gave him more motivation to succeed and attend college.

Rodriguez graduated Sound with honors. He was accepted to the University of Connecticut and Quinnipiac University. He was also awarded scholarships from New Haven Promise and the New Haven Scholarship Fund, but not enough to cover the full cost of college. He ultimately decided to attended Southern Connecticut University because, he said, he likes its nursing program; it’s close to home ... and he received the most financial aid there. Commuting will also save him thousands of dollars.

At Monday night’s graduation, Rodriguez said he will always cherish Sound’s commitment to encouraging individuality among students.

“Be yourself and be unique. Don’t follow the crowd,” Rodriguez said. “Individuality is very important; embrace it.”

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posted by: grounded on June 25, 2014  9:35am

Congratulations, Melisio and the entire graduating class at Sound. 

I thought the Promise was supposed to cover the full cost of UConn?  If we think of college as a place where one builds social capital by developing a network of peers and friends, I worry that students who make a choice to commute because they can’t afford room, board, etc. are losing out.  And the students who need that network most are losing out the most.

Student debt numbers are out of control, but sometimes a limited amount of debt is worth it.  You don’t refuse to buy a house because you’ll have six figures worth of debt.  The calculation is more complicated than that.  But forget debt, I’d love for Promise/CFGNH to develop a separate fund for grants for low-income Promise students’ room, board, emergency costs, etc.  I raised the same proposal on one of Melissa’s articles about the two girls from HSC.  I’d be happy to make a contribution.

posted by: New Haven Promise on June 25, 2014  1:03pm

New Haven Promise pays up to full-tuition at a CT public 4-year or 2-year college based upon family length of residency in New Haven. Students and families are strongly encouraged to apply for additional scholarship, such as New Haven Scholarship fund as well as federal aid to pay for fees, room and board, and the other costs of college not covered by Promise. Promise pays for all residents of the city of New Haven that meet the requirements. This includes students who are “dreamers” as well. However, generally “dreamers” are not eligible for federal financial aid dollars such as PELL, SEOG, work study and subsidized low-interest government student loans.