MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
As the school year gets underway, about a third of low-income, college-bound students won't actually enroll. These are students who were so close. They've graduated from high school. They've applied. They've been accepted to college, but then they don't show up. Why? Most of it comes down to the August money shuffle.
Elissa Nadworny of the NPR Ed team introduces us to a woman in a Washington, D.C., high school who is working to make sure her students avoid this trap.
ELISSA NADWORNY, BYLINE: During the summer months, Torri Hayslett does a lot of math.
TORRI HAYSLETT: That's 31,000, minus 3,500, minus 2,000, minus 4,000...
NADWORNY: Seniors who graduated last spring are here in Miss Hayslett's office at McKinley Technology High School to number crunch. They sit with Hayslett, watching her pour over their finances.
HAYSLETT: So is the $9,000 including this $3,000?
UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT: I think that is including. Again, I do not know a lot of logistics right now.
NADWORNY: These students have been celebrated. They're going to college. The schools they've picked are on bulletin boards. Some even made the local news. And then August rolls around with one big question - can I actually afford this?
HAYSLETT: It still doesn't become reality until they see those numbers on a piece of paper, and it doesn't balance out.
NADWORNY: Hayslett works with about 150 seniors at McKinley, where nearly 40 percent of students are low-income.
HAYSLETT: I mean, I get messages all day, night, weekend.
NADWORNY: One of her students is Damoni Tolson. He planned on going to Johnson & Wales, a private school in Florida, but the numbers aren't adding up.
DAMONI TOLSON: I'm coming here to just clear up some college financial things, and she's going to help me with that
NADWORNY: Right now, Damoni is about $12,000 short, and his mom is having trouble getting a loan.
HAYSLETT: Oh, so you did get some money.
TOLSON: They gave me a decent amount. It's just what's left over...
NADWORNY: So here in Hayslett's office with two weeks left before classes start, Damoni faces a tough decision.
HAYSLETT: Do you want to see about going to another school or is your heart set on Johnson & Wales?
NADWORNY: Damoni shrugs and looks at his feet.
TOLSON: We can see. I mean, I really don't want to switch my decision this late in, but if the loan don't go through, I don't really have any other options.
SHAQUINAH WRIGHT: These are young people who don't really have it all figured out, and they're not supposed to.
NADWORNY: Shaquinah Wright oversees a program called College Bridge, which mentors New York City high schoolers during the college process.
WRIGHT: The finish line keeps getting further and further away.
NADWORNY: She says there are things that can help - smarter college choices, clearer financial award letters and support over the summer months from counselors like Torri Hayslett. At Hayslett's school, McKinley Tech, every member of the senior class was accepted to college, but her work didn't stop there. She tells me only about 75 percent enroll in the fall. So what about Damoni Tolson, who'd been dreaming of moving to Florida?
(SOUNDBITE OF PHONE RINGING)
NADWORNY: Hey, Damoni?
NADWORNY: Hey, it's Elissa calling from NPR.
TOLSON: Yeah, how you doing?
NADWORNY: He didn't make it to Johnson & Wales, but he's now on campus at St. Augustine, a historically black college in North Carolina. He got a big, last-minute scholarship to play football.
TOLSON: I think I've settled in pretty good, met some new people. The campus isn't that big, so I pretty much know where everything is.
NADWORNY: And instead of finding $12,000 for the year, he only had to pay $3,000. Now he's just got to make good grades to keep that scholarship money coming. Elissa Nadworny, NPR News, Washington.
(SOUNDBITE OF TOBACCO'S "OUT THE DUNES")
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