Elissa Nadworny

Elissa Nadworny covers higher education and college access for NPR. She's led the NPR Ed team's multiplatform storytelling – incorporating radio, print, comics, photojournalism, and video into the coverage of education. In 2017, that work won an Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in innovation. As an education reporter for NPR, she's covered many education topics, including new education research, chronic absenteeism, and some fun deep-dives into the most popular high school plays and musicals and the history behind a classroom skeleton.

After the 2016 election, she traveled with Melissa Block across the U.S. for series "Our Land." They reported from communities large and small, capturing how people's identities are shaped by where they live.

Prior to coming to NPR, Nadworny worked at Bloomberg News, reporting from the White House. A recipient of the McCormick National Security Journalism Scholarship, she spent four months reporting on U.S. international food aid for USA Today, traveling to Jordan to talk with Syrian refugees about food programs there. In addition to USA Today, she's written stories for Dow Jones' MarketWatch, the Chicago Tribune, the Miami Herald and McClatchy DC.

A native of Erie, Pennsylvania, Nadworny has a bachelor's degree in documentary film from Skidmore College and a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.

When Lesley Del Rio goes to the library to do her college math homework, she often has a study buddy: her precocious 8-year-old son, Leo.

Del Rio is working on her associate degree; Leo is working on third grade.

And Del Rio is not alone: More than 1 in 5 college students in the U.S. are raising kids. That's more than 4 million undergraduates, and they are disproportionately women and people of color. Of those students, more than half will leave school without getting a degree.

For many college students settling into their dorms this month, the path to campus — and paying for college — started long ago. And it likely involved their families.

The pressure to send kids to college, coupled with the realities of tuition, has fundamentally changed the experience of being middle class in America, says Caitlin Zaloom, an anthropologist and associate professor at New York University. It's changed the way that middle class parents raise their children, she adds, and shaped family dynamics along the way.

On Monday, nearly 60,000 public school students in El Paso, Texas, will start the school year amid an air of mourning, fear and resilience.

The first day of school in El Paso's largest district comes more than a week after a mass shooting at a local Walmart left 22 people dead. According to a police affidavit, the suspect charged in the attack later said he had intentionally targeted "Mexicans."

Roughly 9 million children — nearly 1 in 5 public school students in the U.S. — attend schools that are racially isolated and receive far less money than schools just a few miles away. That's according to a sweeping new review of the nation's most divisive school district borders from EdBuild, a nonprofit that investigates school funding inequities.

Most days, 25-year-old Chavonne can push her student loan debt to the back of her mind.

Between short-term office jobs in the Washington, D.C., area, she drives for Uber. But once in awhile, a debt collector will get hold of her cellphone number — the one she keeps changing to avoid them — and it all comes back fresh. "I'll be like, 'Oh no!' " she says. "It's a sad reminder that I owe somebody money!"

In April, she got another reminder when the government seized her tax refund.

All this for a degree she never finished.

If you have student debt, but never finished your degree, you're not the only one. Millions of people take out loans to start college, but never finish.

These people often struggle to pay back their loans. Does this sound like you? If so, we want to hear your story.

Fill out the form below or by clicking on this link. A producer at NPR may follow up for a story.

We will not publish your name or responses without your permission.

They are early risers and hard workers. They have a "talent for struggling through" and the determination that follows. Some are the first in their family to go to college — or even graduate from high school — and many are financially independent from their parents. They're often struggling to pay for rent, groceries and transportation while taking classes. And that means working while in school — in retail, on campus or even with a lawn care business.

In the second-floor girls' restroom at Bronx Prep Middle School in New York, there's a sign taped to the back of the toilet stall doors. It's a guide on how to "properly dispose feminine products." On the list? "Make sure that no one views or handles product."

"It's not even saying the word pad. It just says product!" explains Kathaleen Restitullo, 13. "Just, like, don't let anyone see that you are on your period."

Raymond Tillman spent most of his adolescence and early adulthood behind bars. His last release — after three stints inside — was in 2011. When he got out, he had a lot to catch up on — like, the digital age.

"When I first came home I was illiterate to technology," he explains. "Didn't know how to turn on a computer, let alone what an email was." But he needed a job, and to get one, he'd need to be able to apply online.

When Akiya Parks first got to campus at the University of Florida, everything was new and exciting. Her mom and brother had driven her to campus and moved her into the dorms, she'd agreed to try a long-distance relationship with her high school boyfriend, she was ready to start a new chapter in Gainesville.

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Inmates are among the least-educated people in America. That's despite research that shows education is one of the most effective ways to keep people from coming back to prison.

Now, there's renewed interest in giving adults behind bars better access to higher education. A new bipartisan bill in Congress would allow incarcerated people to use federal Pell Grants — designed for low-income students — to pay for higher education, including college classes and workforce training.

A new musical explores life in high school in a way that's eerily familiar. It's called Ranked, and it's set in a dystopian world where your class rank — determined by grades and test scores — governs everything from where you sit to what your future holds.

Right now, students across the country are in the process of choosing where to go to college. For many, that decision is closely tied to a school's financial aid offer. But with no current standardization of these offers, letters look vastly different from one college to the next. They're often filled with confusing terms and jargon, and not all colleges define and calculate these terms the same way.

This time last year, McKenna Hensley had a big question on her mind: Where would she go to college? The answer — sort of — was somewhere in her pile of 10 financial aid offers. Each school she'd been admitted to had its own individualized letter, terms and calculations.

"It was very confusing," the now college freshman remembers.

It's no secret that wealth brings advantages when it comes to sending your kids to college. Rich and famous parents can donate large sums of money to schools or lean on their names and connections. Some ritzy colleges explicitly prefer the children and grandchildren of alumni — at Harvard University, an investigation found last year that these "legacy" admits were over five times more likely to get in than the average Joe.

Go to college, we tell students. It's a ticket out of poverty; a place to grow and expand; a gateway to a good job. Or perhaps a better job. But just going to college doesn't mean you'll finish. To unlock those benefits — you'll need a degree.

And yet for millions of Americans, that's not happening. On average, just 58 percent of students who started college in the fall of 2012 had earned any degree six years later, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

A new father trying to provide for his family. A grandmother finishing what she started more than four decades ago. A man navigating multiple schools, hidden curriculums and financial hurdles. These are just some of the older students working toward a degree in the U.S.

Elite colleges are making strides to diversify their student bodies, both racially and economically. In the past few years, we've seen most top schools commit to enrolling more low-income students through financial aid, recruiting efforts and programs for high school students aimed at expanding the pipeline.

But once those students arrive on campus, says Anthony Abraham Jack, they often find the experience isolating and foreign.

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