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One Woman's Fight For College

My July 27 Metro Monday column, "Do You know a High-Achieving Student Kept From College Because of Money," produced a deluge of emails. Did anyone find the kind of student I suggested did not exist, a gifted, motivated high school graduate who found college was impossible because of lack of funds? I will reveal all in next Monday's column. But I thought this email, a vivid tale of a struggle for college by a motivated woman from the previous generation, was worth posting. Many readers will remember what it was like 30 years ago, and how long it has taken people like Marcia Weikle to reach their goals.

Dear Jay:

I graduated Herndon High School (Fairfax County, Va.) in 1974. My class totaled over 900 students and I graduated in the upper 15% of my class. I retained my Honor Roll status for almost all of the four years I attended HHS. I was on the academic road and had high hopes of being a great teacher when I graduated from college.

My father was a blue collar worker at Dulles Airport for over 25 years. He supported his family of wife and five children, sometimes working two jobs at once. He was a chauffeur, and a lineman (responsible for bring airplanes in on correct runway, loading/unloading, etc.) at Dulles Airport. He never, in his life, made more then $21,000. He was a very proud man from the mountains of WV and he believed in providing for his family in a responsibly financial way. We were taught not to air family secrets and that included finances. We were also taught to work hard for what we wanted or needed. I actually started baby-sitting to buy my own clothes ornecessities at the age of 12. My siblings and I received a dress, or a shirt, or a pair of pants at Christmas time when our counterparts were receiving stereo systems, TVs for their rooms, etc. None of us felt poor as we were growing up, however, it is indisputable that we were not a middle income family. We grew up in Chantilly and watched Northern Virginia grow by leaps and bounds. We were in high school when Reston was being built. We watched in dismay as our countryside slowly disappeared .

Upon graduation, I applied to Mary Washington College located in Fredericksburg, VA. At the time it was a very prestigious, very well thought of, all girls college. You needed a high GPA to qualify for entry. I was ecstatic when I was accepted. Now, the hard part; etting the money to pay for the schooling. I was advised by my counselor to fill out a financial help form for Mary Washington. I went to my father for his help. Everything was fine until we got to the part where my father was supposed to fill in his salary per year. Stubbornly, pridefully, he refused to tell them. I begged, I explained, I pleaded, to no avail. He would not fill in the form. Do not get me wrong, my father loved me very much but just could not bring himself to share information that to him was very private, personal and not to be spoken about. Of course, I was unable to get the financial help I needed. I was heartbroken, frustrated and angry.

I was asked (as most potential graduates are) what my plans for college were. I was a church goer and my church adults and leaders were very concerned when I explained my situation. A lovely former Sunday school teacher thought she could help. She was an alumni of Midway Junior College for Christian Girls in Midway, KY (located near exington, KY, home of University of KY). She thought I would qualify for some cholarships due to my GPA. I applied and was accepted as well as receiving two different scholarships that would pay for my schooling! YEA!! I was thrilled and excited!! I was going to college and I was going to be a teacher!! One of the scholarships was a working scholarship. I worked in the cafeteria, picking up trays. Since this was a private college, tuition was $5,000 a year for full paying students. With my scholarships, my tuition was only $900.

I arrived in KY with high expectations and a lot of motivation. It was not very long before I realized the classes would not be challenging for me. They were extremely easy and I felt cheated. My English teacher was dismayed when I did a research paper perfect on the first draft. She pulled me aside and wanted to know where I had gone to school. At the
time, Fairfax County was/almost the top in the Nation. I had only been there three weeks and she didn't know what to do with me. I was advised to study alone for the balance of the Semester. The rest of my classes (except Biology) were the same. No challenge, nothing new and my knowledge far surpassed the other students attending Midway. I was terrifed I would remain, graduate, and be unable to teach correctly with the substandard lessons I had received. I made the decision to return home and try to find a better way.

Instead of finding a better way, or going to a Community College, I struck out on my own with all the cockiness that our youth gives us. I got an apartment with a friend and figured I would return to college shortly. Of course, life and its responsibilities, and ragedies got in the way. Surviving in Northern Virginia is not an easy thing to do on your own. I've worked non-stop, full time jobs since returning from KY 35 years ago.

I began my studies at Strayer in 2007 with the financial help of my company. I have worked at the National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corporation for the past 12 years and they enable me to take 4 classes a year at Strayer. I am eternally grateful to them. I am proud to say that I have a GPA at Strayer of 3.55. Yes, it is very difficult going
to night school and working at the same time. But, I absolutely love it! I just wish I had more money to take more classes. At this time I am ordering my Strayer transcripts to be transferred to Northern Virginia Community University in order to afford more classes with the $6,000 per year I am allotted by my company. I want to finish my BA before I am 56!!

Jay, these stories do exist and they are not black or white in content. Extenuating circumstances play a huge part in financial ability to pay for college. Also, knowledge of resources is a huge part of the whole as well. Or, should I say, lack of? Anyway, my desire to obtain a degree (first in my immediate family other then a niece and nephew - Shippensburg and WV University respectively) drives me to push forward. For all the students that take college for granted - do not. If your family is able to provide you with the financial backing necessary to attend school, be appreciative and be humble.

Marcia Weikle

By Jay Mathews  | August 3, 2009; 5:45 PM ET
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Congratulations to Ms. Weikle for pulling herself together enough to focus on finally getting her degree. Good for her. Hope she's resolved the personal issues that prevented her from accomplishing her goals earlier in life.

Posted by: albright2 | August 4, 2009 10:05 AM | Report abuse

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