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College wasn’t built for today’s students, because today’s students are much more than students. Lumina Foundation teamed up with documentary photographer Rachel Bujalski to capture a candid, close-up look at the lives of five students. Learn more about the barriers today’s students encounter.
Today's students are also parents and caregivers, full– or part–time employees, first–generation college–goers, and immigrants. We're building a snapshot of students' expansive lives—much of which aren't entirely captured by the word student. Add your own life experience to the word cloud below and customize your own identity badge with all that you were, are, or will be in addition to being a student.
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We followed Rachel Bujalski to learn more about how photography can help us understand the barriers students face, what led Rachel to tell these stories, and how she hopes her work will influence thinking about ways to serve them better.
Karen Meza, 24, is one of the nation’s roughly 700,000 Dreamers, undocumented residents brought to this country as children. She is studying animal science and public health at the University of California, Davis.
Denia Beck, 24, has lived her whole life on the Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation in northern California. The first in her family to attend college, she’s attended the College of the Redwoods for six years, earning just two years’ worth of credit. College is important to Denia, but as legal guardian to four children, family must come first.
Miguel Contreras has seen more trouble in his 22 years than most people see in a lifetime. He’s a cancer survivor, an amputee, and he grew up in foster care. He’s also an inspiration. Miguel works full time as a hospital aide and takes a full load of college classes to train for a nursing career—all while preparing for fatherhood.
Okello Charles, 37, lives in San Diego with his two children while pursuing a bachelor’s degree in financial management at National University. He got here the hard way, fleeing war-torn Sudan with his mother and siblings and living as a refugee in Kenya for five years before coming to the United States in 2006.
Zaq Woodward, a 33-year-old electrical engineering student at Pasadena City College, lives on Social Security in a single-resident apartment in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo. It’s a tiny flat—with a shared bath in the hall, but it’s still a step up. He’s no longer homeless, living in his car.
Students today are older and more likely to be Black and brown. They work, live at home, and have family responsibilities.Learn More
There’s a lot of discussion but little debate about what today’s students need.Learn More
See what policies that higher learning advocates support.Learn More
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