Blanca Soto said students in the Central Valley have their own stories of struggles, but she shared her personal one Thursday afternoon.
"I'm sure for different students it's a different situation, but for me it's hard," the Merced College student said, who is in the process of becoming a permanent U.S. resident. "Many doors that might be open for them are closed for me."
Soto was among a group of Merced College students who participated in a panel discussion about education.
The event was part of a series of forums Thursday organized by California Watch, a project of the Center for Investigative Reporting, to engage the public on critical issues.
Soto said one of her biggest challenges is not being able to apply for scholarships and financial aid. "We have to pay for everything," she said.
Damaris Raluy said she's in a situation similar to Soto's. She came to this country when she was 13, and is now the first one in her family to attend college.
But her limitations make it difficult. She said would like to transfer to a four-year college, but she can only take it one step at a time.
"I don't see that far," the Merced College student said.
Raluy said students like herself are here paying taxes and studying, trying to better themselves, with the hope of one day being able to give back to the community.
"I don't think there's a clear story on what's behind every undocumented student," she said.
But the money issue doesn't only seem to be affecting those students who can't apply for scholarships or financial aid because of their legal status.
Challenges all around
Merced College student Janique Johnson said financing her college education is also a challenge for her.
"I'm a little worried about moving to the next level because of the money," she said of transferring to a four-year university.
Other topics touched on during the discussion included where students get their information and the need to be active in the community to help inform their peers about various issues.
Several other panel discussions about public education took place Thursday evening and were open to the community.
Representatives from California Watch, The Campaign for College Opportunity, UC Merced and other nearby institutions were present during the panel discussions. The Sun-Star was one of the co-hosts.
The public had an opportunity to ask questions after every panel discussion.
The ultimate goal of the forums is to get the conversation going across different communities to create change.
For future events, go to http://californiawatch.org/futurestate.
Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at (209) 385-2482 or firstname.lastname@example.org.