Gabriel Toro choked up behind his mask as he described the lengths it took him to complete his bachelor’s degree at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Estranged from his parents and briefly homeless, he took out $50,000 in federal loans. He worked as a mental health counselor, a busboy in a bar, a team member at a Whole Foods and a cashier on the night shift at a diner while juggling a full slate of courses. He skipped meals and shared a studio apartment to save on food and rent. He took a job in a clothing store to get the employee discount on the clothes he needed for his internships.
Then, just when he had polished off the credits required for a bachelor’s degree in management with a minor in psychology, Toro logged on to his university email account and found an unexpected notification from the bursar’s office. The subject: “Degree Withheld.”
In addition to the loan debts he’d incurred, Toro still owed money to the university, including a $200 graduation fee he hadn’t known was mandatory. And until he paid, he would be blocked from receiving the degree and transcript that he needed to get a job.
“I did not have time to cry,” he said, remembering the email that came even as he was struggling to find a job in the pandemic.
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