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Racine native to attend State of the Union

Baldwin Roundtable (copy)

Baldwin

SOMERS — Britney Woods apparently made an impression on U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin.

About three months after participating in a roundtable discussion on college affordability at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, the Racine native was invited to be Baldwin’s guest at President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday, Jan. 12.

At the roundtable, Woods shared how she worked multiple jobs and entered college with little knowledge of financial aid. Baldwin, D-Wis., said she invited Woods to highlight the need for Congress to take action on college affordability and student debt issues.

Woods, 22, said she was taken aback by the invitation but excited to attend the address.

“It doesn’t feel real yet,” Woods said.

Affording college a struggle

Woods, a fourth-year junior at Parkside, is a 2011 Horlick High School graduate majoring in communications.

Affording college has always been a struggle, she said, going back to her freshman year when she worked three jobs — first, second and third shift — while balancing academics.

“If you were to ask me how I made it through my freshman year, I could not tell you,” she said. “But I did it.”

Woods pays for college with some financial aid, although she had no knowledge of payment options at first, which she said speaks to a lack of financial literacy among many working-class families.

Woods also gets through school by working about 25 to 30 hours a week with the Young Leaders Academy, a program through the Racine Family YMCA. She helps kids in grades 2-5 with leadership skills, homework assistance and more.

Woods hopes to continue community work after college and has a long-term goal of starting a new community center in Racine. Working with younger generations reinforces how important it is to make sure all kids can pursue higher education, she said.

“I want the generation coming behind me to have even more resources and be in a better position to be successful while pursuing a degree,” she said.

Baldwin said in a statement that college affordability will be a top priority “because higher education should be a path to the middle class, not a path to indebtedness.”

“We need to answer the call of students and families in desperate need of action to address the student loan debt crisis and make higher education more affordable,” Baldwin said.

Baldwin pushed for an extension of the Perkins Loan Program before it was revived late last year and also has touted measures that would allow refinancing of student loans, make two years of community college free and provide more financial aid for students enrolled in short-duration programs.

‘Rewarding experience’

Woods flies into Washington on Tuesday and will have dinner with other invited State of the Union guests before attending the speech.

Woods doesn’t consider herself a political person; she said she doesn’t identify as Republican or Democrat. But she pays attention to what the government is doing to understand the impact.

“No matter if I’m interested in it or not, it still affects me and it affects my community,” she said.

She hopes Obama, in his final State of the Union addresses, addresses college affordability issues. Otherwise, she has no expectations for how the night will go.

“I’m just interested to see what he touches on and I’m just grateful for being invited,” she said. “I think it’s going to be a very rewarding experience.”

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