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The North Wind

The North Wind

The North Wind

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Katarina Rothhorn
Katarina Rothhorn
Features Writer

The first message I ever sent from my Northern Michigan University sanctioned email was to the editor-in-chief of the North Wind asking if there was any way I could join the staff. Classes hadn't even...

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The North Wind is an independent student publication serving the Northern Michigan University community. It is partially funded by the Student Activity Fee. The North Wind digital paper is published daily during the fall and winter semesters except on university holidays and during exam weeks. The North Wind Board of Directors is composed of representatives of the student body, faculty, administration and area media.

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Financially strapped students take long road to graduation

Sean Baptist wakes up at 6:30 a.m. and packs his lunch. It is a half hour drive to the jobsite where he and his father, a contractor, are building a 3,000- square-foot addition to a home. After setting up the equipment he will need for the day, he works until his 25-minute break at noon. He continues on until 6 p.m. when he puts away his tools and drives home in time for a family dinner. Baptist then goes to sleep, wakes up and does it all over again.

Baptist, a senior illustration major at NMU, is taking the Fall 2010 semester off so he can earn the money he needs to continue his education.

“It seems like I’ve been doing this for a month, but it’s been three. The grind, it distorts your perception of time,” he said.

For Baptist, who enrolled at his first college in 2005, this is the fifth time he has had to drop out of school to work. Baptist said that he doesn’t qualify for federal assistance, like Pell Grants or loans, because of his parents income.

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“(The government) doesn’t take into consideration other factors, like my parents supporting my grandparents,” Baptist said.

He hopes that the money he makes this semester will allow him to graduate in Fall 2011, over six years since his first enrollment.

“At face value, I think people view you as if you’re incompetent or lazy. I always get this look like, ‘Seriously?’” he said. “If I can explain a little bit, I always get a look of admiration and people say, ‘Good for you.’”

Like Baptist, students across the nation have found that graduating in four years is difficult.According to a recent report by The College Board, only 56.1 percent of students who enter a baccalaureate program graduate in six years or less.

Paul Duby, associate vice president for institutional research at NMU, said that the university graduates between 50 and 52 percent of students seeking a bachelor’s degree in six years or less. While this is marginally below the national average, Duby said that it is related to NMU’s unique position as an accessible and affordable school for students who might not attend college otherwise.

“It’s a different clientele. It’s not that the students can’t make it, it’s that they have different obstacles,” he said. “It’s kind of like a balance where the more obstacles you face, the harder you have to work and the longer it takes in order to be successful.”

Duby said that over 30 percent of students at NMU receive the Pell Grant and approximately 81 percent of students work while in school, some working and taking classes full time.

“One of the driving factors around the country and at NMU is the need for students to work and support themselves while they’re at school,” he said. “In a sense, the more you work, the less time you have to work on your studies.”

Amanda Cook, a senior English writing major, works to support herself. Cook, who expects to graduate within the next two years, said that she was set back by losing credits when transferring from a community college and by changing her major.

“It was all a part of the whole ‘trying to find myself’ phase that I was going through. I studied ecology for a while, and then I branched out into art for a little bit. Then I took a writing class and I realized how important it was to me,” she said.

Cook, who is the first person in her family to attend college, said she grew up thinking she would graduate in four years.

“I think that my expectations came mostly from high school and my parents,” she said. “I don’t feel that everything I learned was taught to me by people who understand how college works necessarily.”

Baptist and Cook both said that if they had it to do over again they would have taken greater advantage of resources on NMU’s campus like the Academic and Career Advising Center and their faculty advisers.  They also said that while their extra time in college has been challenging and frustrating, it has also made them appreciate their educations more.

“I know a lot of people who have gotten their degrees and done nothing with them,” Baptist said. “I think that through my experiences, I’ve become someone I’m really proud of.”

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