For Michael Figueroa, college wasn't an option.
"My family grew up very poor and I was basically the only man in the house, so to me, getting income and getting food for our household was more important at the time, than going to school," he explained.
Despite the odds, he did end up entering a community college after graduation, but the financial burden was overwhelming and Michael had to drop out.
"It was a really hard decision because I know that going to school was going to be my future, and I know that having a job, it was just going to be a job. It wasn't a career and going to school was gonna build my career," he said.
His struggle mirrors that of more than half the college students in America who drop out before graduating. The problem is becoming such an epidemic that schools like the University of Tampa hired Lorie Kittendorf to be their Director of Student Success.
"It's actually a great new position that the University created a little over a year ago to have a point person on campus to focus on persistence initiatives and to help students get to graduation," Kittendorf said.
Getting there does have its challenges, though.
"Financial reasons, personal issues, institution doesn't have a major that they're looking for. They get homesick if they're coming from far distances. So it's as varied as the students themselves," Kittendorf said.
Some tips that can help students graduate include living on campus the first year, participating in student clubs and attending a college that's close to home. Kittendorf says she also helps students reevaluate their financial aid packages and get jobs on campus to keep them in school.
"They're saying you know, I've decided to stay. Thank you for the prompts that I've needed or thank you for connecting me with that on campus position because that helped so much," she explained.
Michael wasn't one of those students that stayed. After getting an associate's degree, he had a hard time finding a job that would last. So he started interning at a community development center, where he hopes to eventually get a full time job. His advice to other students?
"Don't let anything distract you, don't let anything bring you down, don't let anything discourage you. I mean, life is hard period," Figueroa said.
Making that difficult period a little easier for students is becoming more important than ever.
"Students want to know that they are cared about and so when they find that person that helps them navigate the policies and the procedures that we have here, it makes a huge difference," Kittendorf explained.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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