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College degree comes with no guarantees

St. Francois County resident April (not her real name) grew up in a single-parent home along with a younger brother. Her mom worked two jobs to help make ends meet.

Hoping to better make a better future for herself, April became the first member of her family to graduate from college. Unfortunately, she has discovered that earning a degree doesn’t guarantee you can escape poverty.

“I was actually the first person out of my entire family — including my extended family — to graduate high school and college,” April said. “Because I was the first one, I guess it was a goal of mine to go to college. I went straight out of high school. I went to St. Louis and attended Meramec Community College.”

April struggled living in St. Louis and so two years later at the age of 20 she moved back home and started attending Mineral Area College.

“Then I quit college and then went back in 2005,” she said. “Then I ended up getting pregnant with my first daughter when I was 25 and went a semester here and a semester there because I was a young mom. First, I was going to go for graphic arts, but I graduated from MAC with an associate’s degree in science and graphic arts. That’s not really marketable around here.

“When I had my second daughter, I decided I was going to go back to school and get my bachelor’s degree. I was pretty well on and off again with their father. We never got married and we never lived together, so I was always a single mom. I decided I needed to get my bachelor’s so I could have a career. I went to Missouri Baptist [University] because they have a building down here in Leadington where you can take classes.”

MBU only offered two areas of study when it first opened — business and teaching.

“I had no desire to be a teacher, so I went for business,” April said. “I have a lot of student loans now. It was slow going because — I have three kids now — during the course of getting my bachelor’s I had two at the time and then I got pregnant with my third daughter. I took a semester off after I had the baby and kinda take a class here, a class there a semester because I was working full time, too. It took me about six years altogether when I probably should have gotten it in four.”

April has been working at a local doctor’s office for about a year-and-a-half. The main office is located in Cape Girardeau, and she believes if she moved there she could probably get a better job now that she’s graduated with a degree.

“With my kids being small, it’s still just me and the girls, I’m single right now, so I don’t have the resources to be able to be gone that long all day,” April said. “Things are tight for us. I don’t really get any consistent child support and I still have to depend on the government for a few things like a minimal amount of food stamps for about a week’s worth of food. I buy the rest out of pocket.

“I’m at a point where I don’t want to depend on the government for anything anymore — so that’s my main goal. There’s been times when I’ve been able to come off of it here and there. I waitressed for 10 years and you can actually make more money waitressing than you can doing the 9-to-5 sometimes. Now, of course, waitressing is not a 9-to-5 job and I need the Monday through Friday with weekends off. Who wouldn’t when you’re a parent?

“The reason why I’m staying where I’m at now is because it’s really comfortable. I like the hours and I make semi-decent money, but I made that money before I got the degree. Now that I have a degree I need to utilize it because I need to pay my student loans back soon. I guess I’m just afraid to step out of the box right now. I just don’t know what kind of jobs to apply for.

“I’ve always just been a receptionist. Right now, I do referrals for the doctors. I’m one of these people who can step into any role and I do really well with it, but it’s getting people to see that when you don’t really have the proof on paper, so to speak, and in a resume form. I’m kind of stuck right now. I’m not sure what the next step is.”

Asked if she hopes she’ll have a better life five years down the road, April said, “Oh, definitely. I would really plan on it being sooner than that. I think I would make sure that I got the area where I wanted to work in first and make sure I did internships and things like that.

“I guess I could just pack up my three small kids and go to the city, but I’d never feel comfortable doing that. If it was up to me, I’d much rather move up to the city and get a better paying job, but I don’t feel that’s right for them.”

“I guess I could just pack up my three small kids and go to the city, but I’d never feel comfortable doing that.” — “April,” college graduate

Even those with college degrees are finding it difficult to find jobs that pay them a living wage and lift them out of poverty. People like April are having to juggle a job with raising their children. It isn't as easy as some would think.

Even those with college degrees are finding it difficult to find jobs that pay them a living wage and lift them out of poverty. People like April are having to juggle a job with raising their children. It isn’t as easy as some would think.

Kevin Jenkins is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-518-3614 or kjenkins@dailyjournalonline.com

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