A few nights a week, Ashley Williams stocks shelves and runs the cash register at Big Lots in Laurinburg. She's excited about the second part-time job she just landed, decorating cakes at Walmart.
Williams, a 22-year-old computer science major at UNC-Pembroke, lives in Laurinburg with her unemployed parents and commutes to campus. She helps out with the family grocery bill and pays for her cellphone, car and gas.
Her financial aid package dropped significantly this fall, when she lost about $1,000 she used to get from state grants. After tuition, fees and health insurance were paid from her federal aid, she had $45 left - not enough to buy her books, which cost nearly $400. The university helped her find two small grants to bridge the gap.
"I cannot stop. I can't give up," Williams said. "I've been talking about going to college since I was 5, and so I can't give up. I've got to do what I've got to do to make my ends meet."