A LITTLE HELP FROM HIS FRIENDS: UTPB student overcoming adversity

Hunter McMinn says he has never been the type to ask for help. But following the death of his parents in quick succession, McMinn found himself having to take advantage of the support offered to him.

A University of Texas of the Permian Basin junior, McMinn will be a senior in the fall. He is majoring in history with a minor in political science.

McMinn, 21, is considering going to law school and earning a PhD. He said it’s hard to find those programs, but they exist.

As a former member of the Student Senate, member of the Quality Enhancement Committee and a member of the search committee for the new dean of arts and sciences, McMinn knows many administrators, faculty and others on campus.

“They all rallied around me,” McMinn said. “I’ve always helped people. I never ask for help.”

He has few relatives. After his parents’ death, a Go Fund Me Page was set up for him and a trust fund is in the works, McMinn said.

“The university has been wonderful to me,” he said.

Every professor, whether he knew them or not, knew what happened and asked him if he was doing OK. He’s also developed a close friendship with UTPB President Sandra Woodley through his tenure on the Student Senate.

“The day everything happened I still went to my meetings. I had meetings to do I wasn’t going to just not show up even though they knew what had happened. I needed normalcy meetings were normalcy,” McMinn said.

His mother died in January 2018 and his father in November 2018. Both had health issues.

When his father died, McMinn said, he had no source of income. He works for Student Life and can pay his bills from that.

He was able to stay in the apartment he rented, thanks to the landlord and help from friends.

After the semester ends, McMinn said he will be moving in with Marlon Fick, a senior lecturer.

Fick and Associate Professor of Art Chris Stanley, along with Woodley and Director of Student Life Adrian Lodge and others have helped a great deal, McMinn said.

“I’ve been very grateful for everyone. Donations came out of the woodwork,” he said.

He won’t touch the donations that come in, except in an emergency. Loans, grants and a few scholarships have kept him in school, McMinn said.

Going to graduate school means he will have to get a “free ride” or a graduate teaching position.

Both of his parents were cremated. His mother’s funeral expenses were paid through a Go Fund Me page and Lodge paid expenses for his father.

He paid her back after he got his tax refund.

Senior Associate Vice President of Student Services Teresa Sewell and the Rev. Mark Woodruff of St. Elizabeth Ann Seaton Church helped McMinn with the arrangements.

McMinn said when he paid Lodge back, she told him he didn’t have to. But he said he wouldn’t take the money back.

McMinn decided to tell his story because he knows there are other students in the same type of situation.

In a previous interview, Woodley said UTPB works very hard to meet the needs of its students.

“We have students who are handicapped who need extra help and we work to get them in housing to make sure that they have a space. We have scholarships. We work with the West Texas Food Bank and Catholic Charities for food insecurity issues with our students,” Woodley said.

She added that there is a food pantry and free store for students.

“It’s heartbreaking to see what some of our students have to deal with and we wish we had much more funding to deal with all of their needs, but with the funding that we do have we certainly do prioritize the needs of our students. We constantly look for ways to help them navigate and get their education,” Woodley said.

One of the things Woodley said she has established is a president’s emergency fund with some private funds that have been raised.

“We use those to help students in all kinds of emergencies to get through, not just tuition and fees. It certainly can go for living expenses, or emergency expenditures that are necessary for them to continue their education …,” Woodley said.

At Odessa College, Director of Financial Aid Ashley Warren recently presented results of a Trellis Financial Wellness survey to the OC board of trustees.

Conducted in August 2018, it was a statewide survey. Some 4,199 surveys were sent out at OC and 348 responses were received — an 8.3 percent response rate, Warren said.

“For our survey to be considered valid, we had to have at least 4 percent response rate …,” she added. “We incentivized this with a scholarship raffle, so when students completed it we raffled for one institutional scholarship.”

The survey showed that 59 percent of OC students indicated that they ran out of money three or more times in the past year.

Forty-nine percent worried about having enough money to pay for school.

Forty-eight percent of students showed some signs of housing insecurity and 11 percent indicated they were homeless.

These students had moved multiple times; lived with others beyond the expected capacity, had difficulty paying rent; didn’t pay the full amount; and didn’t pay the full amount of their bills, Warren said.

Fifty-five percent of students indicated that it is important for them to support their family financially.

“An additional data point to that was 30 percent of our students indicated that they had children they were supporting,” Warren said.

Sixty-four percent of borrowers indicated that they had more student debt than they expected to at that point.

Twenty-one percent of students showed signs of very low food security, meaning they were skipping meals, or not eating regularly.

Twenty-five percent had low food security — not having a variety of foods and not having what they would want to eat, Warren said.

Some 13 percent of students were using some type of food assistance.

Sixty-four percent of students were less than confident that they would be able to pay off the debt they were acquiring while they were in school and 63 percent of students were using money from their current employment.

Forty-two percent found their total debt load to be overwhelming, whether it was credit card, car loan, money owed to family or student loans, Warren said.

Twenty-seven percent of students were using credit cards to pay for college.

Seventy-two percent said they would use financial support services offered by their school, she said.

Additionally, 60 precent of students said they would have trouble getting $500 in cash or credit to meet an unexpected need within the next month.

Warren said the college aspires to have emergency aid available.

“For Odessa College right now, we have yet not created an official emergency aid committee, or scholarship, or grant or whatever the case may be. But every financial aid office gives away emergency aid. They find a way to make emergency aid happen for students …,” Warren said

She added that it is hard to track those students or determine how many students are helped.

“What we would like to do is get an emergency grant, or loan, or whatever the case may be. That way, there’s easy ways to pull what students need this emergency aid; what students have requested it. Then we can set up follow-up actions for those students …,” Warren said.

That could be financial literacy courses to help them so the students don’t find themselves in that situation again and their progress can be tracked to see if they complete the semester or earn the degree once they get the aid.

“I think that’s what we’re missing. Almost all schools help students who need it, when they need it … but we need a process to close the loop,” Warren said.

There isn’t one specific factor that leads students to financial insecurity.

“I don’t think there’s one boxed answer. We have students from 18 to 65 and older. We have to keep an open mind as far as what it’s going to take to help these students,” Warren said.

There is a food pantry in the works and a student organization has started a closet where people can find interview outfits.

Vice President for Institutional Effectiveness Don Wood said the survey was an eye-opener. It found that students stop out for some very real reasons. They are housing insecure and may be living in a car.

“We have students who are so poor they become food insecure. They only have enough money to get through maybe three weeks of the month … We have students, who … cannot raise $500. They don’t have it. They don’t have anything like that. We have students that if they puncture a tire, say coming to class, they don’t have enough for a tow truck. They don’t have enough money for another tire,” Wood said.

Now OC is figuring out what they can do to combat student poverty and they’re looking north to Amarillo College, which recently won a Leah Meyer Austin Award for its efforts.

OC also won a Leah Meyer Austin Award the year before for increased graduation rates and closing its equity gap. Wood said Amarillo College has adopted things like OC’s drop rate and us are very close have adopted drop rate improvement program and eight-week terms.

The Drop Rate Improvement Program aims to strengthen the connection between each course instructor and students, the OC website said.

“They’ve taken their initiative and created a whole approach to poverty,” Wood said of Amarillo College. “Now we’re visiting them to understand how they do it; to see if we can adopt some of their practices.”

They have created culture of support, Wood said.

He added that Amarillo College’s graduation rates are soaring as a result.

One of the things Amarillo College has done is created a fund where a student can come in and the college will pay the bill.

Bills are paid through funds from the community.

“… They just show them the bill and they pay it. The college just pays the vendor, or the utility company. That has helped,” Wood said.