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STUDENT PROFILE: BETTY LUZ MORALESBy Pamela Burdman
It is three o'clock on a Thursday afternoon, and Betty Luz Morales is taking a break from her $7.50-an-hour job in the Y-Building at City College of New York. She has another two hours of work, and then a little time to grab dinner and finish preparing for a test on research methodology in her Psych 103 class, Science of Behavior.
After that class, Betty heads straight to Psych 247, Social Psychology, which ends by 9:15. With any luck, Betty can walk ten blocks north through Harlem to the number 19 bus stop and make the journey home to the South Bronx by 10:00 PM.
In addition to her psychology-packed Tuesdays and Thursdays, Betty takes two sociology classes every Monday and Wednesday night and a three-hour philosophy class on Saturday mornings.
That full courseload has been the norm for Betty since she started at City College in 1999. Her quiet determination has helped her stay several units ahead of the junior-year requirements. For now, however, Betty's attention is not on academics, but on the 20-hour-a-week work-study job that supports her studies-processing paperwork to assign students to on-campus work assignments.
In addition to being her employer now, the work-study program helped support her even before she started college: Her mother (also named Betty) preceded her in a work-study position in the same office until last spring, when she completed her bachelor's degree at City College.
Since her mother is now unemployed and living in Puerto Rico, Betty, age 20, is putting herself through school with a combination of financial aid, work-study, and various loans. That places her in the majority here at City College, where about two-thirds of the more than 10,000 students rely on some form of financial aid. About 500 of them are on work-study.
Based on her mother's income of $20,000 for the year 2000, Betty qualifies for several forms of aid. She receives $1,354.50 per semester from New York's Tuition Assistance Program-just shy of the $1,520 maximum. The TAP money covers part of the $1,854 a semester Betty owes in tuition and fees. Her $1,875 Pell Grant pays the difference and helps pay for books and other living expenses. She also receives a Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant of $225 each semester.
Betty's work-study allowance is $1,625 per semester, but because her need is great, she is eligible to appeal for an additional $1,250. During the summer, when the other forms of aid are not available, Betty received $1,842 in loans.
Without that assistance, Betty said, it is doubtful that either she or her mother would have had the opportunity to go to college. "It would be a struggle to come up with the money," she said. "I don't think it should be that hard. And this is cheaper than other colleges."
Struggle was familiar to Betty as she was growing up. An only child, she was raised mainly by her mother from the age of three, when her father moved out.
By the time she was 16, she lost contact with her father. Often Betty would have to call him to remind him to send her child support. Several times her mother threatened to take him to court, but Betty asked her not to. "He was my father, and I felt bad," Betty recalled.
For awhile, her stepfather helped support the family. But most of the time, Betty's mom cobbled together a living by working for various employers in the area, including Montefiore Hospital, a U-Haul office in Westchester, and an elementary school in the Bronx. At one particularly difficult point, Betty recalls, her mother held four jobs.
At first, Betty's aspiration to attend college arose mainly from a desire to make her mother proud, but gradually it became her own goal. "I realized you have to go to college to survive in New York. I figured I had to, because of being Puerto Rican, and being a girl, and having a defect," said Betty, who, from a very young age has had to contend with having only one hand. "A high school diploma will get you somewhere, but it's not going to get you where you want."
To help ensure that Betty got a good educational foundation, her mother sent her to a private Catholic school, even though it was not easy to afford the monthly tuition of nearly $400. By the time she was a sophomore, however, the family could no longer afford the cost, and Betty transferred to South Bronx High School.
To make sure that Betty didn't get sidetracked on her way to college, her mother discouraged her from working during high school, even though the family could have used the money. "She always was afraid I would slack on my studies," Betty said. Her mother's single-mindedness seemed to pay off: Betty's solid B grades netted her a spot at City College, where admissions requirements have been tightened in recent years.
She said the workload is not as difficult as she had feared: "I was raised going to a Catholic school, so I was used to getting extra work. I was used to having homework."
At first, Betty went to school during the day and squeezed in her work-study job between classes, but more recently she settled into the routine of taking night and weekend classes.
She has many interests, including photography and creative writing. Before choosing City College, she considered an arts school in Philadelphia. But like her mother, she decided to major in psychology. After graduation, she hopes to continue her education and become a physical therapist-a desire that is motivated by her own physical disability. Though Betty never let her disability stand in her way, she was always aware that she could face discrimination.
"I realized when I was a child that I was different," she said. "But I don't consider myself handicapped." As a physical therapist, she hopes to help children cope with their disabilities.
It is no surprise that Betty followed in her mother's footsteps, both in choosing her major and in finding her work-study job. She and her mother are close, and many studies have shown that parents' college attendance is one of the best predictors of whether a student will attend, and succeed in, college.
In having a parental role model, Betty is in the minority at City College, a school well known in its 154-year history as a magnet for immigrants. Here, students are more likely than not to be in their family's first generation to attend college-as well as their family's first generation to live in America.
Her mother's encouragement has strengthened Betty's resolve to take a full courseload and complete college as quickly as she can. By the time she started her junior year, she already had completed 67 units.
"I'm happy now, because I'm almost graduating," Betty said with a smile, determined that no obstacle-financial, academic, or physical-will get in her way.
Pamela Burdman is a freelance journalist and former higher education writer for The San Francisco Chronicle. She can be reached at email@example.com.