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A recent study shows low-income students have a harder time earning their diplomas — but not at UCF.

The National Center for Education Statistics found that students with lower incomes are less likely to graduate from college. However, Director of Institutional Research Patricia Ramsey said low-income UCF students graduate at nearly the same rate as the university average of 68.3 percent.

The NCES study determined that only 14 percent of students from low-socioeconomic backgrounds were able to graduate with a bachelor’s degree within eight years of completing high school, as opposed to 60 percent of students from a high socioeconomic background. However, Ramsey said 66 percent of low-income UCF students graduated within the same time frame.

UCF has many available resources to help students pay for school, housing and food — which could be the reason UCF’s graduation gap is less than 2 percent. The UCF Financial Aid website has a list of more than 30 scholarships students can apply for, but financial help is not always guaranteed in the end.

However, there are other resources on campus that can help a lower-income student graduate.

UCF’s Student Care Services works with distressed students to coordinate resources and develop plans to help students succeed.

Angela Newland, chair of the Homeless Student Waiver Committee and care manager at Student Care Services, said her office sees a lot of students who were not aware of such resources.

“Scholarships are just one of the many ways to get additional funding, whether through the school or student government. I definitely think it’s worth a look,” Newland said. “My advice would be to ask around and look for supportive resources on campus because we’ll do what we can.”

The low graduation gap might also be attributed to the hard work ethic of many students. According to the study, a low-income teen with great scores and a high-income teen with mediocre scores are equally likely to graduate with a bachelor’s degree.

Patricia Maloney, a senior sports and exercise science major, works two jobs and goes to school full time. She has considered dropping out or taking a break from school, but she is motivated to finish strong.

“I work pretty much all the time and still make barely enough to pass by. It gets frustrating after a while having to stay in, not treat myself money-wise and still find time to have fun,” she said.

Sasha Quintana, a senior psychology major, is working her way through college, along with maintaining a full-time job and part-time course load.

Starting college in 2010, Quintana has maintained an average 3.2 GPA, but that hasn’t helped to alleviate the stress of financial aid that only covers a limited number of credit hours. Maloney averages a 3.1 GPA and only has loans to fall back on. Being a student with low income, she doesn’t qualify for the Federal Pell Grant. In Maloney’s world, she said it’s common to choose between food and a night with friends.

Quintana said she will live solely off student loans if she loses her job because her family isn’t in a position to help her, but she maintains a positive outlook.

“Having things spoon fed [to you] will never allow you to understand the true value of money, education or what happiness is,” she said. “I’m struggling, yes, but I could not be more happy with what life has given me.”

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Alissa Smith is a Contributing Writer for the Central Florida Future.

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