Geuris German is a young, industrious college student who dreams of becoming a biomedical engineer, but there is a catch.
His single-parent family, with an annual income of only $25,000 a year, couldn’t afford the rent on their house. They were evicted, losing most of their possessions, including a couch, china cabinet and TV. “It was hard,” said 18-year-old German, recounting that day.
Yet despite his financial hardships, German managed to excel in high school and was accepted to Stony Brook University. Now he struggles to pay for college.
German is one of many who is academically qualified but financially unqualified for college. According to the Department of Education, poor students with high math scores are as likely as to graduate college with a bachelor’s degree (41 percent) as rich students with low scores. The probable cause?
The average cost of tuition, fees and room and board rose 10 percent over the past five years for public colleges, making low-income students unlikely to attend or finish college, says the College Board’s 2016 annual report.
German is one of the lucky ones, but his journey to receive a higher-education was arduous.
Three years ago, he and his family were homeless; their house was foreclosed and they were forced to move into a cousin’s apartment, where the German family of four lived in one of the three small bedrooms. The rest were occupied by the cousin, her brother, her sister, her mom and dad. The cramped living space brought the family together, and they would often spend time with each other, going out, talking late into the night and cracking jokes with one another. Two months later, the German family found an apartment of their own.
Born and raised in the Bronx, German grew up without a father figure. His father, a Dominican Republic immigrant, abandoned German when he was two years old and his two older brothers, to return to his home country and start a new family. German’s family could now only rely upon his mother’s measly substitute teacher salary, where pay and work days were sporadic and inconsistent. The family had to go on food stamps for a few years and receive help from Section 8, a housing voucher program that assists poor families in paying their rent.
“My boys, when kids, asked me to go to Disney, and I would say ‘one day,’” said Yoanna German as she broke down crying. “I would take them to the park instead to play baseball with them. But one day, I can afford Disney and I’ll take them,” she said with a small laugh.
German did the most domestic chores in his house while his mother worked and his two brothers—Victor, 29, and Jonathon, 19—focusing on work, college and their personal lives. He would cook for the whole family, clean the bathrooms and go grocery shopping.
“Geuris—he is special to me,” said his mother proudly. “He helps me out so much.”
German, regardless of the economic burden placed upon him, was able to attend college through the Education Opportunities Program (EOP), a financial aid program that helps bright but poor students attend and transition into the college life.
He has always enjoyed learning, even getting accepted into the Engaging Latino Communities for Education (ENLACE) program when he was in 7th grade. This program exposes low-income Latinos who have shown academic merit to a variety of science and math courses. In his six years of being enrolled in ENLACE, he befriended Derrick Canales, another student who comes from a disadvantaged background.
“He can be a little too overconfident at time,” said Canales with a smile on his face, his square-rimmed glasses perfectly framing his face. “Geuris can be an overachiever and would underestimate some classes. But he would always go the extra mile in studying and asking questions if he didn’t get the material.”
German’s impressive high school Grade Point Average of 91, despite his economic handicap, made him eligible for EOP. The program has a graduation rate of 84.6 percent, according to Cheryl Hamilton, the Assistant Director of EOP at Stony Brook University.
“If it weren’t for EOP, I wouldn’t have done well as I have done so far in college,” said German with conviction.
The program gives an annual $900 book stipend and provides students with advisors and counselors who guide their students throughout their college careers, setting them up for networking opportunities and programs. It also makes its new students attend a five-week immersion program in the summer, where students have to take four types of vigorous classes. This prepares them for their freshman year of college.
“The EOP advisors tailor themselves around each individual,” said Isaiah Thomas, an EOP senior who also relies on a one-parent income. “When I first started college, I was struggling to keep up with my schedule, and my advisor would call me to remind me when my next class will be.”
German, even with his financial aids and grants, needed to take out an annual loan of $5,500 and is now at a work-study program on campus where he works $11 an hour for eight hours a week. He wants to add more hours in the near future, hoping to make time between his heavy course load and the many study groups he attends.
“I just remember my dreams and what I want to achieve,” said German with a nonchalant shrug. “And that’s how I get by.”