FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (WTVD) -- For decades, a college education has been upheld as a crucial step toward building a solid career and financial future. But despite President Joe Biden's recent student loan relief initiative, countless students nationwide are concerned about how college could be a financial burden instead of an advantage.
However, a local program called High School Connections is trying to lessen the cost of a college education for current high school students. Organizers say they are trying to get more marginalized students to sign up.
High School Connections (HSC) is a partnership with Cumberland County Schools and Fayetteville Tech Community College. HSC is part of a larger statewide effort called Career and College Promise. The program started in 2012, but organizers say it's more urgent than ever for low-income students to take advantage of this opportunity.
"We're doing everything that we can to reach those underserved populations so that they can have this opportunity to excel and to achieve," said Taneka Williams, the career pathways coordinator of Cumberland County Schools.
Participants have two options: high school students can start taking college classes while in high school to get a jump start on their college educations. Or they can start earning a professional accreditation that allows them to start working and earning money immediately after graduating the 12th grade.
Coordinators say they're seeing record enrollment numbers this year at about 1,300 students. That's an increase from about 700 students during the pandemic.
Still, organizers say they'd like to get twice as many students enrolled. Enrollees can finish their studies faster and save thousands of dollars on getting a degree.
"The shorter period of time that you're in college and you're in accruing student-loan debt that accrues interest every day, the more likely you are to be able to have successes in trying to complete your studies--even at the post-secondary level," Williams said.
Organizers said that because Cumberland County is a low-income area with mostly minority students, a lot of young people need this kind of support to get out of poverty.
Angelina Robinson, a sophomore at Fayetteville Tech, is just a few classes away from earning her associate's degree in criminal justice thanks to the program.
"I didn't necessarily want to do it at first, either," Robinson. "But after giving me an opportunity, and giving myself a chance, I learned that I was able to accomplish so much more than I thought I could have."
Robinson went on to say that because she saved so much money through the program, she can more easily afford to pursue her next dream--a second degree in psychology.
"I know a lot of people who have to, who are paying years, have student loans in their 50s, 60s, 30s, 40s. And I think not having that pressure really helps me be able to do other things with my money as far as advancing my career or advancing my education," she said.
Organizers for High School Connections encouraged interested students to talk to their high school counselors about applying.