State Press Play: Is ASU doing enough to help low income students?

A conversation with ASU freshman Anthony Delphi about opportunities and challenges facing low-income students

Podcaster Balin Overstolz-McNair sits down with ASU Computer Science freshman Anthony Delphy to share his story, which reflects the struggles of many low-income students. Today, over 80 percent of college students in the US receive financial aid, and low-income students continue to face obstacles to getting into college. Delphy is an Obama Scholar, but he said scholarships are only a piece of the puzzle. 


Balin Overstolz-McNair: In Arizona, the average cost of college tuition for the 2017-2018 school year was about $9,334. I work at a gas station, many other students work at a fast food restaurant or similar minimum wage jobs. Well, the average yearly salary for a McDonald’s worker and similar jobs is about $16,000, and that’s at full-time. Simply put, many young students just don’t make enough money to afford tuition. But that’s not really news is it? 

But it does beg the question: How do you afford college when your family can’t contribute? Chances are, if you’re in that situation, it might be up to you to figure that out. So, you decide you need some scholarships because you don’t want to spend your college years in poverty. You get a really good scholarship and decide to go to, say, ASU… sounds good, but where are you going to live? Can you afford textbooks? What if your car breaks down? You’re already working full-time, so you decide to take out a loan and push away the anxiety of it all four years down the line because that’s when you’re expected to pay it back. 

This is how college begins for many low-income students, held together by duct tape and determination. As the transition into independent life takes its course, the expenses of life add up. For some students, the numbers simply do not balance. There are options, of course, 10,000 ASU students received private scholarships, and many students receive help from the New American University Scholar Awards. And there’s the mythic Obama Scholars program, an almost golden-ticket like scholarship that high school guidance counselors remind students of endlessly. For good reason, this scholarship covers everything minus the amount of money a family is estimated to contribute. For students whose family cannot contribute anything, this scholarship can cover nearly everything. 

ASU student Anthony Delphy is one of those Obama Scholars, an opportunity he says has allowed him to attend ASU as he comes from a low-income family. I wanted to understand more about how the Obama Scholars Program affects students like Anthony, but also more about low-income students in general and some of the challenges they face. So, we met-up and discussed his experiences.

Anthony Delphy: Hi, I'm Anthony Delphy. I'm a undergraduate computer science software engineering student at the Tempe campus. I heard about the Obama Scholars around my junior year of high school and because of the area I am in, everybody in faculty and like high schools around the area talk about that scholarship because that is usually the scholarship that lets kids go to ASU. If it wasn't for that scholarship, a lot of the kids in that area wouldn't be able to afford college at all. 

At around October, around now, they're usually like...file your FAFSA. Right. Now. They have FAFSA workshops where, like, they'll bring out food and give it to the parents so that parents can file the FASFA and just get a meal. That's how I heard about the Obama scholarship. It was kinda drilled into my brain around junior year. If it wasn't for the Obamas, I likely would be going to community college for my first two years.

Balin Overstolz-McNair: Could you tell me more about your background before coming to ASU? 

Anthony Delphy: Well, since around sophomore year of high school, I've worked pretty much constantly, and that's always been a struggle to balance school and my work. There are points in time where I just wouldn't have enough time for either of them and getting enough sleep at night. And so, I think the longest amount of time I've stayed awake was around three to four days, just to try and catch up on my studies and then go to work immediately after school. 

Balin Overstolz-McNair: Why were you responsible for working in high school?

Anthony Delphy: It was a mixture of my family's poor financial decisions in the past and already low income. To make sure that certain bills were paid in a certain amount of time and a decent, in a good amount of time, I would have to spend around 70 to 80 percent of my check every week just to make sure that those family bills do get paid.

Balin Overstolz-McNair: Now, at ASU you still must work. Has that been a challenge? 

Anthony Delphy: I expected as I went into college that I'd be able to just work at the same time. I realized about a month in that I was averaging about three hours of sleep per night and where I was working at the time wouldn't give me less hours because they were understaffed. I ended up having to leave that job a month in. And I'm about...what I have now is what I'm probably going to have until around January, when the next set of student loans go out. 

Balin Overstolz-McNair: How do you feel about needing to take out a loan?  

Anthony Delphy: I kind of think of them as a necessary evil, which I feel as though it's kind of a bad thing to do and also not a bad thing to do. I feel like it's a necessary evil. It's something that some people have to take out. And the fact that I don't really have to worry about it until I graduate is kind of nice. But at the same time, it's just kind of it's something that's crawling on the back of my neck. Where I'm just like hmm, that's a lot of money. 

Balin Overstolz-McNair: If you’re in a situation where your job and school are conflicting, how would that play out for you?

Anthony Delphy: So, I actually went through that situation a little while ago, like a little under a month ago now, where there was a family emergency that forced me to jump between West Phoenix and Tempe basically every day. 

And with the schedule that I was working around 30 to 35 hours per week, that's not sustainable. That's not going to work. So, I ended up having to leave my job. But luckily, I had enough money saved where I think I can hold it over until around January. And if I was a little worse at saving money, I would say...that I wouldn't choose my job over going to college. My family's kind of baked that into my head, it was just like, even if you're penny to penny, go to college because you won't be after you go to college. No offense to where I worked, but it is definitely a part time job, and I can't really envision myself doing that for 30 to 40 years. 

Balin Overstolz-McNair: It’s a messy situation. Students without support face a lot of obstacles and don’t always have the time to fully devote themselves to their studies. Life gets in the way, cars break down and bills need to be paid and that's the least of it. ASU offers resources for low-income students through TRIO, located in the Matthews Center. It is also FAFSA season right now, so be sure to file that immediately and attain the assistance you might need. 

For The State Press, I am Balin Overstolz-McNair. 


Previous episode(s): 

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Reach the reporter at boversto@asu.edu and on Twitter @boversto_asu

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