When Alexander Matlock started college, he was homeless.
“I was couch surfing on friends’ couches. I was sleeping in my car if I had to, while going to school, trying to find an apartment and trying to get employment,” the senior at WSU Tri-Cities said in a video.
Matlock, now on the verge of graduation, is the face of the campus’ new student hardship fund.
His story is not unique.
Whether it’s a home fire, a relative’s medical emergency or a stolen laptop, administrators saw a bevy of students trying to juggle financial problems and schoolwork this year, said Jordyn Creighton, the student financial and support services manager.
“These emergencies are often a large contributing factor to why a student doesn’t finish their degree,” Creighton said.
The stress of trying to scrape together money while taking classes is a leading cause of student dropout, according to research from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
The majority of the university’s students are local, and they average about 25 years old.
More than a third of the about 2,000 students at WSU Tri-Cities are the first in their family to go to college. The students tend to stay close to home. When they graduate, they end up staying in the Tri-Cities.
“These students end up giving back to the WSU system and the Tri-Cities as a whole,” Creighton said.
So Chris Meiers, the vice chancellor for student affairs, Creighton and other administrators started a hardship fund.
While the fund won’t replace the need for a regular income, it does help with the immediate emergencies. Students can apply for help at student financial services.
University staff decide how much each student needs to help them with their immediate problems.
Fundraising began during last weeks’ WSU Giving Day with the goal of $500.
As part of the fundraiser, Meiers promised to go for a dip in the Columbia River if they reached the goal.
In the space of a day, people contributed $8,000 to the fund.
“I think we also set the bar too low,” he said in a video of him going into the river. “We’re very grateful for all of the support.”
They are hoping to continue with their initial success, and increase the fund’s balance to $10,000.
Along with the financial issues, the university offers other counseling for students going through emotional turmoil along with the financial problems, Creighton said.
If you give to the fund you can go online at bit.ly/WSUHardship.