April 28, 2014 - When college students across the nation graduate, seven in 10 will leave with an average debt of $29,400 per borrower; however, 22-year-old criminal justice student, RaShawndra Strozier, is the exception. After she graduates from Fort Valley State University on Saturday, May 3, Strozier will leave college debt-free.
When compared with undergraduates from other institutions, Strozier, like other FVSU students, graduate with lower levels of debt. Last year, the Project on Student Debt named FVSU as one of the top ten schools whose students graduated with the lowest levels of debt in the nation. On average, FVSU students graduate with an average balance of $8,263.
Strozier grew up in Greenville, Ga., a town so small that it does not have any stoplights. When she turned eight years old, Strozier’s father died from cancer, and her mother was left to raise her alone. To pay bills, her mother worked overtime at Sewon America, Inc., a Kia Automobile Supplier plant in LaGrange, Ga. Strozier’s mother had dropped out of college, but she encouraged her daughter to earn her a degree. When Strozier was about to graduate from Greenville High School, she had no idea where to apply.
Her aunt, Elaine Williams, a retired educator, and her cousin, Nesha Williams, a Unity Elementary School teacher in Luthersville, Ga., suggested Fort Valley State, their alma mater.
“My decision was based on tradition,” Strozier said. “Since they graduated from FVSU, and thought it was a good school, they wanted me to do the same.”
Strozier applied and was accepted to Fort Valley State University. She obtained a Hope scholarship and Pell Grant, which helped reduce her college expenses. The student’s remaining expenses amounted to $1,800, while she lived on campus. To pay the balance, her mother took out a third-party payment plan offered by the university, and thanks to a flexible payment schedule, she paid the debt down in small installments. After Strozier moved off campus, the most her mother had to pay, out-of-pocket, was $1,600.
The young Wildcat says that she did not take out a student loan.
“Since I didn’t have a loan, I didn’t have a refund to spend,” Strozier said, who admits she was a bit envious when she saw her roommate and others receiving refunds to help with school expenses.
“Don’t be jealous,” her mother said. “Eventually they will have to pay that money back.”
Because Strozier knew of the great sacrifices that her mother was making, she took her scholarly commitment seriously. She also lived by the Bible verse, Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
“Knowing that my mother is paying out-of-pocket, I didn’t want to waste any of her money,” the 22-year-old explained. “In college, you have to have a positive mindset, be self-motivated and remain focused. You can go to a party, but it will hurt you in the end. You have to decide what is more important.”
She says that her aunt and grandmother also helped her financially, as long as she did what she was supposed to do in school. In addition to their support, Strozier obtained a work-study job in the FVSU’s Registrar’s Office, as a clerical assistant and student worker.
When Strozier began her freshman year, she enrolled in the business management and administration program; however, during her sophomore year, her plans changed.
Strozier dreamed of becoming a juvenile parole officer, so she switched majors to criminal justice. Not wanting to miss any of her courses, she studied hard and completed her assignments on time to ensure that she finished school in four years. In 2013, Strozier interned at the Troup County Sherriff’s Office, working with correctional officers. During the day, the Wildcat rode with officers as they transported prisoners. She also fingerprinted suspects, and completed arrest and incident reports. She also had the opportunity to speak with juvenile probation officers.
This Saturday, Strozier will receive her Bachelor of Arts degree. Strozier wants to earn her master’s degree in public administration, and then enter law enforcement.
Strozier credits her mother as being instrumental to her success.
“My mother is a strong, independent woman,” Strozier said. “She’s a hard worker and would go without necessities to ensure I have what I need. She’s the reason why I finished school.”
She also believes that her father would be proud of her accomplishments.
“Even when I was a child, my dad and I would have talks about school,” Strozier said. “My dad would be extremely happy that I’m graduating cum laude. Although he’s not present in the physical sense, I know that he would be happy.”
Fort Valley State University’s commencement ceremony takes place Saturday, May 3, at 9:30 a.m. in the Health and Physical Education Complex on FVSU’s campus. Visit www.fvsu.edu/academics/commencement for details.
Christina D. Milton, writer/social media specialist
Fort Valley State University
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