Doctorate in Student Loans but No College Degree

Posted on January 16, 2019 by Alice Kenny  |  Share

Read Laurie Fleming’s Profile Here & in The New York Times

Just 15 weeks’ shy of her dream, an Associate degree in Fashion Design at Parsons School of Fashion, Laurie Fleming ran out of money and was left with nearly $70,000 in student debt. 

“I was at the finish line; I can see it; it’s right there,” Ms. Fleming says “Instead I have a doctorate in student loans.”

Ms. Fleming’s move from a small Midwestern town to the Big Apple mirrors the experience of strivers for generations.  But finding herself buried by student debt before she could achieve this dream is a contemporary one spurred by sky-high tuitions and lax student loan oversight.

How Ms. Fleming fell among these sad statistics, like all tragedies, is a story unique to her. Fortunately, she, similar to thousands of struggling women in New York, found a solution that will hopefully lead to a job and back to school thanks to free employment training at Grace Institute, an affiliate of Catholic Charities NY.

But by 2014, finances became too strained as she and her family faced eviction from their Bushwick apartment when the landlord wanted to sell and housing court costs added up, Ms. Fleming told The New York Times Neediest Cases Reporter Remy Tumin in this just-released article.

“It was a do-or-die situation,” said Ms. Fleming, who attended Parsons while raising her daughter, Symarrah, 10. Ms. Fleming decided she had to drop out of school, just one semester short of finishing. “It was devastating. I moved to New York, to be the first one graduating from college, and I’m right here — that was my dream, it’s still my dream. But now I need work.”

Fortunately, Ms. Fleming saw a sign for Grace Institute’s tuition-free administrative training program for low-income women in New York City.  She signed up.

There, Grace staff say, she stood out as a star.  She served on the Grace Participant Advisory Board as a liaison between students, staff and the board of directors.  After graduating in August 2018, she served as a student intern. Ms. Fleming is now interviewing for jobs. 

For more than a century, Grace Institute has provided tuition-free job-training skills for women. This includes intensive computer, business writing and career-development classes. Staff prepares students for interviews. They draw on the institute’s extensive lists of employer contacts to arrange meetings. The goal is to help students land solid jobs, become self sufficient and improve the quality of their and their families’ lives.

“It was a life-changing experience to me, because they treated you as a woman and capable, and they showed you your strengths,” Ms. Fleming said in this recent New York Times article. “To be in that atmosphere and have people to treat you like you’re equal, it’s amazing.”

Learn more about Grace Institute.

Read Laurie Fleming’s full profile in The New York Times.

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