Meet Jamira: A Low-Income Student Turned National Children’s Savings Advocate

Jamira Burley is the Executive Director for the City of Philadelphia Youth Commission and an outspoken advocate of the power of college savings for low-income youth. She recently spoke at a Prosperity Now & Opportunity Nation Forum on College Savings in Washington, DC.

Q: Did you grow up thinking that college was a possibility?
As the first of 16 children to graduate from high school and attend college, for a long time, I didn't think it was even an option. Neither of my parents had graduated from high school, let alone college, and it always just seemed so far out of reach.

Q: How were you able to afford the costs of a college education?
The summer before my senior year of high school I decided that I was going to college. So, I applied to every scholarship that I could find and I also was lucky enough to have a full-time job which helped me pay for college and college-related expenses.

Q: What would be the best way to help kids and their parents think about and plan for college?
I think the earlier parents and children start to think about college and preparing is best because it would give them an opportunity to learn and research all of the available options.

From speaking with many of my peers whose families had put aside money for their education, I learned that it didn't start with a lot of money and parents just saved what they could. So, I think parents and students have to learn and understand their financial options in paying for school but also start saving early, even if it's a dollar here and there.

Q: What advice would you give to students who might become discouraged and think college might be financially out of reach?
As a person who has worked in education both secondary and post-secondary, I would say that there are way too many options out there, if you look for them. There are a number of scholarships that go unclaimed every year because students don't apply. I know a lot of people think that it's all about your GPA but that's not true. There are a number, hundreds of scholarships, that select awardees on other things besides GPA.

Q: What do you hope to do with your education in the future?
I hope to use my education to enhance the work that I do with youth. My goal is to one day attend law school and help to create policies that will make education more accessible for everyone.

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