Elissa Nadworny | WYPR

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 Rhonda Gonzales was in college in the early '90s, the term "first-generation" wasn't part of her vocabulary. Sure, she was the first in her family to go to college and she did have a sense of discomfort on campus — not quite fitting in. But it wasn't something she advertised, or even identified with, and no one else on campus seemed to care much, either.

A federal judge has fined U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for contempt of court for failing to stop collecting loans from former students of a now-defunct chain of for-profit colleges.

The court ruling orders the Education Department to pay a $100,000 fine. The judge said Devos had violated an order to stop collecting loans owed by students who had been defrauded by Corinthian Colleges.

Between studying for her weekly anatomy and physiology exam, and writing an English paper, Kate Hough somehow finds time for coloring, dress-up parties and putting together four different Halloween costumes (a princess, a cowgirl and two clowns).

Hough is working toward her nursing degree at Mount Wachusett Community College, in central Massachusetts, while raising four kids — two toddlers and two in elementary school.

Kate Szumanski still remembers the note her professor wrote at the top of an essay in her senior year: "This is a good argument ... Why don't you come visit me at office hours and we'll talk about graduate school."

By all accounts this was a good note. Szumanski got an A on the paper – and she'd done well in the political science class all semester. But that note terrified her. "I started to shake, my cheeks turned bright red," she told me recently. In all four years of college, she'd never once gone to office hours.

Updated at 6:45 p.m. ET

A judge has ruled in favor of Harvard University in a high-profile court case centered on whether the school's admissions process forces Asian Americans to clear a higher bar to get in.

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.

Lots of people have student loans: more than 45 million people. They collectively owe about $1.6 trillion.

That is, of course, a lot of debt — but amid all the national debate right now about what to do about it, it's important to remember that not all debt is created equal, and some borrowers are struggling more than others.

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.

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.

You're reading NPR's weekly roundup of education news.

An end to the Denver teacher strike

Denver teachers returned to the classroom this week after the Denver Classroom Teachers Association and Denver Public Schools reached a tentative labor agreement Thursday morning. Teachers in Denver had been on strike since Monday.

Getting students to show up is one of the biggest challenges schools face: How can someone learn at school if they're not there in the first place?

A new study suggests living in a high-crime area, or simply passing through one on the way to school, can impact how often students show up to class.

For many college students, a crucial step on the path to a good job — or career — is the internship. It's a chance to gain vital experience and prove yourself to employers.

But to get that internship, you need a network, and a good resume. Both are things many students struggle with, especially those at community colleges.

Students like Kelcei Williams. She attends Northern Virginia Community College in Woodbridge, Va. When she got to campus, her only experience was at Dunkin' Donuts and Lowe's Home Improvement.

Updated July 26, 2019

Did your college require you to take classes that didn't count toward your degree — classes that were supposed to help you catch up and get ready for college courses?

These are sometimes called remedial, developmental or intervention classes. We're not talking about general education classes that you may have been required to take in order to graduate.

NPR is looking into just how common these classes are — and how helpful they are for students.

A new musical duo is being hailed across the country as "brilliant" and "mesmerizing." One fan says their work "transcends all ages," and many more are begging them to go on tour.

But to do that, the singers would have to quit their day jobs. They're not professional musicians — they're school administrators in Michigan. Their breakout hit? A video announcing a snow day.

The teachers union in Denver has voted to approve a strike that could begin as soon as Jan. 28. It would be the first time the city has seen a teacher strike in almost 25 years.

The Denver Classroom Teachers Association finished voting late Tuesday after more than a year of negotiations between the union and the district, which have failed to yield an agreement.

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